Is Anatomy of a Scandal based on a true story and will there be a season 2?

a close up of Rupert Friend and Sienna Miller in a still for Anatomy of a Scandal

Viewers have been gripped by Netflix's new political thriller and many are asking is Anatomy of a Scandal based on a true story?

The drama stars Rupert Friend and Sienna Miller as high-flying couple James Whitehouse MP and Sophie Whitehouse. But their life is turned upside down when a parliamentary colleague accuses James of rape. Created by Emmy winner David E. Kelley and Melissa James Gibson - behind hit shows such as Big Little Lies and House Of Cards - it's drawn audiences in and shocked them with it's surprising plot twist.

Alongside Bridgerton season 2, Selling Sunset and documentary A British Horror Story - the drama has remained high up in Netflix's top 10 chart since it's April release.

Is Anatomy of a Scandal based on a true story?

Anatomy of a Scandal is not a true story and is instead based on Sarah Vaughan’s book of the same name, which was released in 2018. While it’s not a real-life story, Sarah drew from experience of covering the courtroom as a reporter and political correspondent at The Guardian.

Director S.J. Clarkson has spoken about why she was so keen to get the book adapted for screen. She said: “I picked the book up and devoured it in a day and a half.

“I started to ask myself questions, too, about whether the real ‘scandal’ wasn’t just the alleged assault of a young woman by her powerful boss in a House of Commons lift. But really, more broadly, about wealth, privilege, entitlement and men raised to believe they own the world.”

She added: “I knew, immediately, it would be a compelling psychological thriller, a gripping courtroom drama, and a story about a marriage that’s unravelling very publicly. But, at the same time, I saw it would divide people and get them talking about some of the biggest issues of our day. From a director’s point of view, it had the lot.”

Because of its political storyline and mentions of the #MeToo movement, it’s easy to see why many people are asking if Anatomy of a Scandal is based on a true story.

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan (Paperback) - £6.14 | Amazon
Anatomy of a Scandal centres on a high-profile marriage that begins to unravel when the husband is accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is sure her husband, James, is innocent and desperately hopes to protect her precious family from the lies which might ruin them. Kate is the barrister who will prosecute the case.

Anatomy of a Scandal: cast

  • Sienna Miller (American Sniper, Layer Cake) plays Sophie Whitehouse
  • Rupert Friend (Pride & Prejudice, Hitman: Agent 47) plays James Whitehouse
  • Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey, The Gentlemen) plays Barrister Kate Woodcroft
  • Naomi Scott (Aladdin, Power Rangers) plays James’ colleague Olivia Lytton
  • Josette Simon (Wonder Woman, Red Lights) plays Barrister Angela Regan
  • Liz White (Life on Mars, Ackley Bridge) plays Kate's friend Ali
  • Joshua McGuire (Lovesick, About Time) plays Chris Clark
  • Geoffrey Streatfeild (Spooks, Rush) plays Prime Minister Tom Southern
  • Ben Radcliffe (Pandora, Ransom) plays the young version of James
  • Hannah Dodd (Eternals, Enola Holmes 2) plays the young version of Sophie
  • Violet Verigo (Tomb Raider, Lola) plays Krystyna
  • Jonathan Coy (Conspiracy) plays Judge Aled Luckhurst QC
  • Kudzai Sitima makes her TV debut as Maggie Dobson

What has Sienna Miller said about Anatomy of a Scandal?

Sienna Miller has said of the series: “What Sophie deals with is public humiliation and betrayal – things that are not unfamiliar to me. But her response to them was so different to my own.”

She added: “I’m realising increasingly that the work I do is really me unpacking my own psychology in bizarre ways. Sophie did a version of life that I could’ve had and really was very against. I’m not trashing it, but it was such a blinkered view of the world that I went on a soul-searching quest to find who I really was, not who I was prescribed to be.”

What have other cast members said about the series?

Naomi Scott, who plays rape victim Olivia, said of the drama: “Even as an actor, walking into a courtroom was terrifying. You have to relay the biggest, most traumatic moment of your life in front of all these people. That blew my mind. It’s incredibly brave to go down that path.

“When people think of sexual assault, they think of the man lurking behind the bush. This isn’t that. Olivia was in love with him. The viewer almost becomes the jury. You’re given the fragmented version, each person’s memory of that event, and you’re left to deal with that yourself.

“It asks questions of us as an audience member: how we bring our own biases to what we’re seeing. As entertaining as the show is – and it is a thriller – I’d like to think that it’ll spark some discussions about consent and privilege.”

Anatomy of a Scandal based on a true story

Credit: Netflix

Where was Anatomy of a Scandal filmed?

Anatomy of a Scandal is predominantly filmed in Oxford. Filming locations include New College Lane, Brasenose Lane and Pembroke Square - plus an Oxford University college. The trailer also shows two characters running through Oxford’s streets.

Much of the filming in Oxford took place in March 2021 and the locations were closed off to the public during this time.

Some of the series - including the court scenes - were filmed at Shepperton studios in Surrey. Whilst London and Manchester also provided the backdrop in the thriller show.

Those familiar with the Capital might recognise restaurant The Delauney as where Kate Woodcroft (Michelle Dockery) meets her lover for a drink after work. And of course being a political drama, the show also filmed parliamentary scenes at the Palace of Westminster and the exclusive House of Commons bar - Terrace Bar.

In Manchester, the John Rylands Library - with all it's Victorian splendour - was used to also recreate scenes in the House of Commons. Filming first began in October 2020 and wrapped in mid 2021.

How many episodes of Anatomy of a Scandal?

Anatomy of a Scandal consists of six one-hour episodes which are all available to watch on Netflix now. Sienna Miller, who plays Sophie, has joked that she wouldn’t have been able to do more than six episodes. She said: “I don’t really have the attention span for a long-format thing.”

And speaking about the female director, S.J. Clarkson, Sienna added how she couldn’t have pictured a man directing such a story.

She said: “For me there’s no way a man could’ve directed this story. Not to say that there weren’t capable male directors who have the sensitivity, but it just felt right that it was a woman because the show really is about women.”

Anatomy of a Scandal based on a true story

Credit: Netflix

Will there be a season 2 of Anatomy of a Scandal?

Anatomy of a Scandal is described as a limited series, so it doesn’t look like there will be a second season. And Netflix have not confirmed any news of one. However, there are reports that the drama is planned as an anthology - meaning there would be more series to follow.

It’s thought that each season will focus on a different large-scale public scandal. It’s not known whether any future series would be based on Sarah Vaughan’s other books. Though it wouldn’t be surprising, as her books are usually psychological thrillers and often contain themes of power and privilege.

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Robyn Morris
Entertainment writer - contributor

Robyn is a freelance celebrity journalist with ten years experience in the industry. While studying for a degree in Media and Cultural Studies at London College of Communication, she did internships at Now and Heat magazines. After graduating, she landed a job at Star magazine, where she worked her way up to features editor. She then worked at Future as Deputy Celebrity Content Director across Woman, Woman’s Own, Woman’s Weekly and Woman & Home magazines.