The Trial Of Christine Keeler, BBC One, Sunday and Monday

Sex, class, racism, power, spies, exploitation, social mobility, gender inequality, media intrusion – the Profumo Affair had it all. In 1963 it provoked a tabloid frenzy and helped bring an end of the age of deference. Today the same story would break the internet, as the saying goes.

Thirty years ago Michael Caton-Jones’s film Scandal cast Joanne Whalley as Christine Keeler and John Hurt as Stephen Ward, the society osteopath who introduces her to fast-rising Tory Minister John Profumo. Financed by an enthusiastic Harvey Weinstein, it had a strong political and anti-Establishment intent – so strong that the BBC chickened out of backing it as a mini-series, writer Michael Thomas’s preferred vehicle.

Three decades on – post-Weinstein, post-Epstein and post-truth – this re-telling by Amanda Coe has shifted the focus from Profumo and Ward to Keeler herself, fleshing out episodes from her earlier life and putting her at the centre of the drama. She even narrates, after a fashion. So this time the story concentrates on the personal as much as the political. Another less obvious difference between the versions of 1989 and 2019: Whalley was a state-school educated northerner whereas Sophie Cookson (Keeler) and Ellie Bamber (Mandy Rice-Davies) are both products of southern English public schools. So much for the 1960s dream of social mobility.

Elsewhere Ben Miles makes an unctuous and slightly reptilian John Profumo and Emilia Fox plays his starry wife Valerie Hobson as ice-cold, steely and detached, a woman who knows when to look the other way. Oddly, given the show’s focus on the distaff side, the star turn in last week’s opening two episodes went to James Norton as Stephen Ward. Cigarette in one hand, glass of whisky in the other, he was perfectly cast as the complex, tragic and oddly sexless society fixer whose policy of social triangulation brought him into contact with Russian embassy officials, Lords, government ministers, West Indian drug dealers and attractive young women on the make. And if you wanted to, you could also view Norton’s performance as an audition to be the next James Bond. Emerging from his mews flat dressed in a tuxedo he looked made for the part.

It’s hard to argue that we were crying out for a re-examination of the Profumo Affair. Then again, as shown by the success of 2018’s A Very English Scandal and the continuing Netflix series The Crown, it’s hard to argue that late 20th century British history isn’t a rich or artistically profitable vein of content to mine, or that we aren't good at putting it on the small screen and making it look awesome. Like those two other show, The Trial Of Christine Keeler is a costume drama for people who hate costume dramas – an evergreen tale with contemporary resonances aplenty.