The Trial of Christine Keeler’s James Norton: ‘The Profumo Affair was our Watergate’

James Norton reveals all about playing Stephen Ward in BBC1’s Profumo Affair drama The Trial of Christine Keeler, which starts tonight

The Profumo Affair rocked Britain in the early 1960s and now BBC1’s compelling six-part drama The Trial of Christine Keeler sheds intriguing new light on the notorious scandal.

The series explores how teenage model Christine Keeler (Sophie Cookson) encounters married Tory MP and Secretary of State for War John Profumo (Ben Miles) through her friendship with suave society osteopath Stephen Ward (Happy Valley actor James Norton). But their liaison soon makes the headlines with devastating consequences…

Here, James Norton tells us about BBC1 drama The Trial of Christine Keeler, which starts this evening at 9pm…

Why does the Profumo Affair still fascinate us?

James: “It’s the biggest scandal of its type in this country; it’s our Watergate. And it’s about the primal power of sex and this idea of a young beauty who older men are compelled by and the power that has and the potential for destruction. We show a girl thrust into this confusing, hostile, male-dominated community. Seeing how she navigates that is fascinating.”

Tell us about Stephen

JN: “Stephen’s a gift to play – enigmatic and an odd fish. I love it’s not clear-cut – he is far from being a villain or a hero. He was subversive and progressive. But being that avant-garde then came at a cost.”

Sophie Cookson and Christine and James Norton as Stephen in The Trial of Christine Keeler

Sophie Cookson as Christine and James Norton as Stephen in The Trial of Christine Keeler

What research could you do?

JN: “I’ve relied on footage of Stephen and his interview about the scandal. One scene was even taken from transcripts – it’s extraordinary speaking ghostly words from the man himself. It’s been a rewarding puzzle to unpick.”

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You have grey hair and wrinkles as Stephen, how have you found ageing up?!

JN: “Yes, Stephen was older than me so I haven’t just had heavy nights of non-sleep! We have an incredible make up department who’ve done wonders and, disconcerting as it is, it’s exciting. The 60s is such a beautiful time too. There was so much care taken over appearance. It makes me self-conscious every time I throw on a tracksuit – I should make more effort!”

The Trial of Christine Keeler airs on BBC1 on Sunday 29 December and Monday 30 December at 9pm

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