The Trial Of Christine Keeler

Bafta-winning screenwriter Amanda Coe takes a fresh lens to one of the most infamous British stories of the 20th century

Interview with Ellie Bamber

In my opinion, the importance of this story is that it demonstrates the shift in how female sexuality is viewed by society. Christine and Mandy were two young girls who turned what was socially accepted of them on its head.Ellie Bamber
Date: 16.12.2019     Last updated: 16.12.2019 at 07.19
Category: BBC One
Interview with Ellie Bamber, who plays Mandy Rice-Davies.

What was it that made you want to play Mandy Rice-Davies?
Amanda Coe’s scripts are incredible. She is so witty and has a passion for the characters that shone through in her scripts. We are playing real life people and they really do come across as real life characters within the scripts. Mandy has this incredible hunger for success that guides her through life. She simultaneously cares quite a lot about what people think of her but, at the same time, she just keeps going with this tunnel vision to success regardless of anything. She’s ballsy, a lot of fun and has a real hunger for knowledge.

She sees men as being quite infantile and she placates them. On the surface she seems to give them everything that they want, when actually she’s getting what she wants. Mandy is a very well-oiled machine and someone that has a business head on at all times. She knows what she wants and she just keeps going.

Mandy Rice-Davies seemingly navigated the pressure of the trial better than Christine. What would you say were the differences between Mandy and Christine?
Mandy manipulated and took advantage of the bad situation she found herself in and used it to her advantage. In many ways I think that’s pretty heroic. I think that was probably to do with the fact that she had such a thick skin and, compared to Christine, had a fairly easy and normal childhood.

Can you tell us about Mandy and Christine’s friendship?
Mandy was younger than Christine but had this coping mechanism, which sometimes meant she could be perceived as being quite fickle, but it allowed her to stay in control. She could get quite emotional in the heat of the moment but was able to forget about it fairly quickly. Whereas Christine let things build up - she was a free spirit and slightly chaotic. They’re different in that way but it led to Mandy taking on a maternal role towards Christine. Mandy is very proper and believes things should be conducted in a proper way, whilst Christine is reactive and in that sense very human.

Why do you think now is the right time to tell Christine and Mandy’s story?
In my opinion, the importance of this story is that it demonstrates the shift in how female sexuality is viewed by society. Before Christine and Mandy’s story, men were allowed to sleep around whilst if women did the same they were labelled as prostitutes. Christine and Mandy were two young girls who turned what was socially accepted of them on its head, and because they discarded the social norms of the time the government punished them. They also punished Stephen Ward. I think they created this moment that made society question whether it was right for men in power to continue to do whatever they wanted. People started to realise it was wrong and to question their politicians and moral leaders.

We now look back at that time through a very different lens. Do you think the audience will view their story in a different way?
Mandy and Christine were totally manipulated. Both the police and media coerced them into saying things that they otherwise wouldn’t have. I don’t believe Christine or Mandy knew what else to do. They were both so young and were backed into a corner by people with more experience, authority and power. It must have been very demoralising as they were facing a trial and prison sentences whilst also being labelled as prostitutes and call girls in the media. I think we might have a far more advanced moral understanding of their situation now and might be able to comprehend that these girls were young, having a good time and actually not doing anything wrong. They weren’t married or cheating on their other halves like the men in this story.

Did you do any of your own research for this part?
I read Mandy’s book, Mandy, and I really loved it. The book is all her own story and from her own point of view (as it always is with Mandy!). She has an incredible energy to her and it helped me to slowly understand her as a person. With Mandy what you see is what you get. She has this honesty to her; she’s very open about the fact that all she wants to do is to become a famous actress, find a nice husband and settle down with lots of money. She’s very clear and so there is no underlying nastiness to her, she is just driven.

It’s amazing to have a character so driven and hell-bent on making the best life she can for herself. There is a funny story about Mandy attending a Mini Cooper convention in her hometown. She turned up uninvited, wearing just a bikini and posed for photographs on the cars, as she wanted to be a model. That’s Mandy! She had this determination within that’s so admirable. She is unapologetic and outrageous. I also listened to interviews that she’d given, read newspaper articles and a book called An English Affair, by Richard Davenport-Hines, that gave me a lot more background on the scandal.

Andrea Harkin has been at the helm of this drama. What was it like working with her and what did having a female director bring to the production?
It was brilliant working with Andrea. We clicked from the start and she has a real love for each of the characters that was amazing to see. I loved crafting Mandy with Andrea - she had an incredible knowledge of the case and such an eye for detail. She would often remind us of the wider story before we started a scene, which was really helpful because often you can get lost in a scene and it’s easy to forget the context, especially when you’re shooting six episodes.

Can you tell us about how you worked with costume designer Pam Downe, and hair and make-up designer Inma Azorin to create Mandy’s look?
Inma and Pam went to such incredible lengths to recreate authentic looks, as well as sourcing original looks. The colour palette for Mandy contained a lot of pastel pinks and blues, a reflection of her energetic personality. For Mandy, her hair, make-up and choice of clothes are a mask for her; they’re her battle armour to get her into Mandy mode. We created a look for Mandy that is playful but also very pristine. Pam created these incredible suits for the court scenes. One is like a Chanel suit and the other is a beautiful blush pink and they were incredible. I want to wear them every day and don’t understand why women don’t dress like that anymore! I’ve totally fallen in love with 1960s fashion.

What is the world like that Mandy inhabits?
Mandy and Christine have this close relationship that is so gorgeous. We see at the beginning how they are just two young, free-spirited girls having fun together, and nowhere more so than at Stephen Ward’s home at Wimpole Mews. The team created such an incredible set for it. The level of detail that the production design team have gone to is incredible. Even down to fine details such as what’s in the fridge or cupboard. When you open the fridge or the cupboard in one of these sets it’s fully dressed with plates that Mandy might have or food in the fridge that Stephen might have. There has been so much thought put into that and a real understanding of each character and how they might live.

What was Mandy’s relationship with Stephen and Christine?
There is one particular scene, which I think is my favourite, where Mandy is teaching Christine and Stephen how to get out of a sports car. I think it’s just this youthful, careless and free relationship that they have with each other where they can just talk for hours on end about their dreams, their hopes, inane and silly things and just be themselves. It’s not conventional or what people might perceive as normal, but in that was incredible beauty.

Christine and Stephen met first, and then Christine later introduced Mandy before the three of them moved in together. Stephen and Mandy slept together once but as I recall from the book, and who knows if this is true, but at one point Mandy claims that her and Stephen once talked about how it might be mutually convenient for them to marry. Not in a way that they were in a sexual relationship with each other - I think that part of their relationship was very fleeting - but they got on well and thought they might as well marry!

What do you think Mandy made of Christine’s affair with John Profumo?
I don’t think Mandy could comprehend how Profumo could possibly walk away from it all unscathed but Christine could not; how Christine’s name would be dragged through the mud. Mandy’s feeling was that he was equally responsible for the affair, so why was Christine the only one being punished for it? Mandy saw it as something that could have been used as a career move, she was constantly pushing Christine into taking it as an opportunity for modelling and acting because all Mandy wanted to do was be an actress. An interesting thing about Mandy is that when she sees Christine being offered screen tests, instead of being jealous, she actually encourages her and was excited for her.

How did you and Sophie Cookson collaborate on building the chemistry between Christine and Mandy?
I originally saw Sophie as Christine when we first read together, and I thought  it was incredible how she inhabited the character. I’ve loved watching her work and really learnt from her process, but other than that we’ve become really good friends. When we first met the two of us went out for dinner. We had a really interesting conversation with one of the drivers on set who was there to drive the vintage cars and he had actually met Christine and Mandy and had been close to them. That was really interesting and a really special moment to talk to someone who had actually known the women.

What do you think audiences who might not be familiar with the Profumo affair will make of this drama?
I think that people are always fascinated by real-life stories and understanding how things actually happened through uncovering new information. I also think it’s a story about abuse of power and that is something people are interested in: how corruption does exist within our society and there is abuse of power which is awful, particularly towards young women.

It seems that this was a chapter in Mandy’s story rather than something that dominated her life, as it did for Christine.
Mandy did very well. She moved on and really made something of herself. She went to Israel and she helped with the war effort and did some incredible things. She opened her own clubs and had her own fashion label - this was a woman who went from being called a prostitute in all the newspapers to becoming a self-made millionaire. I think that is a nice story, that in the face of adversity she was able to take control and push forward. She had a husband for a time but for a lot of her life she was single and became this woman who was known for her ability to connect people.