How Anatomy of a Scandal Reckons With Consent in a Post-Me Too Era

Anatomy of a Scandal' Sienna Miller, Rupert Friend, Michelle Dockery and Naomi Scott spoke to E! News about the complexities of the Netflix series.

By Cydney Contreras Apr 17, 2022 2:00 PMTags
Watch: Sienna Miller Talks Consent & Holding Powerful People Accountable

Anatomy of a Scandal may feel far removed from reality with its portrayal of an upper-class family embroiled in controversy, but at the core of the show is an issue that has far-reaching consequences: consent.

It's one of those topics that you avoid discussing at a dinner party, along with religion and politics, for fear of causing conflict. However, stars Sienna Miller, Michelle DockeryRupert Friend and Naomi Scott are hoping that the series will ignite debates, because, as Sienna told E! News, it's one of those things that "should be talked about."

Sienna's character, Sophie Whitehouse, understands the pertinence of these conversations better than perhaps anyone else in the series. As the wife of James Whitehouse (Friend), a British politician accused of rape by his mistress, Sophie questions, "How have I contributed to these men feeling like they can take what they want without any consequences?"

The show sees her grapple with the role she played in uplifting a potential predator, who is ultimately acquitted by a jury of his peers. 

And though she shouldn't be blamed, Sophie can't help but feel responsible. "She goes on this really interesting journey of self-flagellation and self-discovery and she's sort of learning the way the world has changed," Sienna explained, adding that society has made some progress in terms of sexual empowerment: "It was different for girls my age when I was growing up than it is for girls currently."

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But Naomi, who plays James' mistress Olivia Lytton, doesn't necessarily fault Sophie.

Naomi pointed out that a jury acquitting someone of rape doesn't necessarily mean their actions haven't inflicted real damage. Rather, the jury likely doubted a sexual assault survivor for one reason or another, with Naomi saying that people should really be asking, "Why are we reacting the way we're reacting to what we're seeing? Why does it make us believe or not believe things?"

The actress looked back on the moment Olivia admitted to being in love with James. "The air gets taken out of the room as if she said something so damaging to her case," Naomi remembered. "But why does that make her more unreliable?"


Moreover, Olivia decided to wait some weeks before going to the police, which James' lawyer used as a defense, but Naomi noted, "If you look at statistics on people going through trauma and that shock period and the many, many reasons why someone wouldn't instantly come forward—if anything, it makes her part of the majority. If anything that should strengthen her case."

There are other moments in the trial that rightfully bring doubt to the jurors' minds, like when Olivia and James detail their first date: James remembers her sipping champagne but Olivia says it was beer, making people question whose story is more accurate.

These conflicting details continue to build throughout the show, but does it even matter? Well, Anatomy of a Scandal doesn't have the answers.

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But Michelle, who plays barrister Kate Woodcroft, said she "loves those moments" of uncertainty because it highlights the role of a barrister—or in American terms, a prosecutor. "I think the show explores that a lot, how memory is so conflicting from one person's perspective to another," she said, adding that it's the barrister's role is to remind jurors of the more important matters at hand, like whether Olivia was consenting to sex with James.

Ana Cristina Blumenkron/NETFLIX

Michelle added, "I have so much respect for the prosecutors because it is an incredibly complex process."

And Rupert is in agreement with his female co-stars, though he played up the "ambiguity" of his character's guilt to "further stoke the kind of conversations Sienna was hoping people would have, where you may be rooting for the guy at some points and at other points determinedly sure he's guilty."

Ana Cristina Blumenkron

Less ambiguous to the actor was James' cruelty in ending their brief fling. "I remember finding it very cold actually, when he breaks up with her, because she's so wide eyed and innocent about the whole thing," he explained. "And he seems to think it's forgone; that it's going to be over."

Rupert suggested that James is "so entitled," he probably chalked it up to a miscommunication: "That's another thing about a relationship that is 'casual.' Normally, one person is way more into it than the other person and that's often where the problems arise because there isn't transparency about that."

But the cast isn't trying to convince you of anyone's guilt. As Sienna said, "the show is made in a really clever way and it doesn't spoon feed any answers... I hope therefore there's lots of debate and interesting conversations."

Anatomy of a Scandal is streaming now on Netflix.

For free, confidential help, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit