admin     12 / 14 / 2019

Check out Stella’s Magazine full interview with our girl as part of The Trial of Christine Keeler’s promotion.

As she takes on the role of Mandy Rice-Davies – the model at the centre of the Profumo affair that rocked 1960s London – actor Ellie Bamber tells Caroline Leaper why it’s so important that the women’s side of the story is finally heard.

Ellie Bamber is still wearing the lilac eyeshadow from her Stella shoot when we meet an hour later for tea. With her aquamarine eyes and strawberry-blonde hair, she looks ethereal, despite having spent the past four hours gamely posing in a Notting Hill mews in the freezing cold, wearing a Chanel miniskirt and throwing a puffer coat on between shots. It couldn’t be a more appropriate location, given that her major new television role is set in a very similar London mews in the early 1960s. Ellie plays Mandy Rice-Davies in The Trial of Christine Keeler, a new BBC TV series about the unravelling of the Profumo affair in 1963, starring James Norton, Emilia Fox and Sophie Cookson, and written by Amanda Coe, whose previous hits include the thriller, Apple Tree Yard.

Best known for playing Cosette in last year’s BBC adaptation of Les Misérables and India Hastings in Tom Ford’s 2016 film Nocturnal Animals, this is Ellie’s biggest role to date.

‘I was so excited to play Mandy,’ she says. ‘I knew quite a bit about her already, as my grandmother’s parents ran a pub in east London, and my grandmother was a hairdresser, so she had heard rumblings of the story when she was growing up. I had read Mandy’s autobiography and it was interesting to speak to my grandmother about it, as she only knew what she had essentially been fed by the press at the time. Mandy was phenomenal. I think she was so misunderstood and is actually one of the heroes of this story.’

An icon of the swinging ’60s, the Welsh model and showgirl was at the centre of the scandal that threatened to bring down Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s government in 1963. Her life changed for ever when news broke that John Profumo, then Secretary of State for War, was sharing a mistress, her flatmate, 19-year-old Christine Keeler, with a Soviet naval attaché, Yevgeny Ivanov. Profumo resigned soon afterwards, and months later Macmillan stood down on health grounds. The reputation of the Conservative Party was irreparably damaged by the scandal, and the following year they were defeated by the Labour Party in the general election.

Mandy had met Christine (played by Kingsman actress Sophie Cookson), when the pair worked as dancers at Murray’s Cabaret Club in London’s Soho. They became involved in a series of relationships with high-profile men, with many of the introductions facilitated by society osteopath Stephen Ward at his Wimpole Mews home.

Ward would later go on trial, charged with living off of the ‘immoral earnings’ of Mandy and Christine, who were alleged to have been among a group of call girls run by Ward. Testifying in court, Mandy delivered a riposte that would become headline news: a witness, Lord Astor, denied having had an affair with her or even meeting her, to which she replied, ‘Well, he would, wouldn’t he?’

I thought a lot about how to do that famous line,’ Ellie says of the challenge to pull off a phrase that has made its way into the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations – even today, the initials MRDA, standing for ‘Mandy Rice-Davies applies’, are used to suggest scepticism of any claim. ‘Everyone was asking me, “What are you going to do with the line?” In some court transcripts it says that she giggled as she said it, and I experimented but didn’t use it in the end. In her book she wrote that although it came across as a cheeky comment, she was just being honest and saying, “How could you expect this man not to lie about something like that?”’

At 22, Ellie is not much older than Christine and Mandy were when they were put on ‘trial’ by the national press. With sex and spying at the centre of the political scandal, and two beautiful young women to splash pictures of, the papers exploded with the story and both women struggled to move on from it afterwards.

What appealed to Ellie about this new telling of the tale, she says, was that it is the first time anyone has viewed it from the perspective of the women, rather than the sexist gaze of the press and male politicians. ‘The girls didn’t really have a voice, because as much as people wanted to hear their side of the story, they also wanted to very quickly judge them and call them sluts,’ Ellie says. ‘I think it’s disgusting [how they were treated].

Mandy and Christine were two young women who enjoyed sex and were perfectly allowed to have sex with as many people as they wanted. This was the start of the 1960s and a segue into free love; you can see now how this event was a catalyst. I think it’s really sad that they weren’t able to enjoy their sexuality. In our current day, we have moved on a little bit, but we’ve still got further to go.’

Getting into character as Mandy required a dramatic transformation. Ellie’s Berkshire accent sounds softly aristocratic and her tousled hair has flitted between shades of her natural white-blonde colour and red dye jobs over the last few years. She adopted Mandy’s Llanelli-Solihull blended accent (Mandy moved from Wales to the Midlands as a child), as well as her heavy eyeliner and stiff yellow-blonde beehive updo. She didn’t need to act the fire, though; Ellie is a passionate feminist, swears a lot, and sticks up for the characters she plays.

‘Mandy is f—king funny,’ she enthuses. ‘She’s bright, she’s intelligent. She has this façade throughout, as her clothes were an outer layer that was like her battle armour to go into these humiliating situations where people would be shouting at her in the street.’

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admin     12 / 14 / 2019

Full exclusive interview of The Times magazine with the cast of ‘The Trial of Christine Keeler‘.

The Trial of Christine Keeler was filmed in Bristol, some of whose citizens turned out to have long, unkind and not necessarily accurate memories of an affair that became Britain’s gold standard for political sex scandals. One morning, Sophie Cookson, who in this new BBC drama plays Keeler, the young woman credited with bringing down a prime minister, overheard a shopper as she passed the shoot. “Oh yes, well, she was the prostitute,” she educated her companion.

“For me,” Cookson says in a photo studio in London a few months later, “it was just like, ‘Gosh, some people are so fixed in their opinion about it and so quick to judge.’ I think as a society we need to be forgiving and understanding and kind to each other. All Christine did was have an affair with a man she found attractive. And yet that led to this whirlwind of chaos, which she lived with throughout her life.”

The man Keeler found attractive was John Profumo, the archaically named secretary of state for war in an exhausted Tory government. An Old Harrovian, decorated war hero and philanderer, Profumo was 46 when he met Keeler, this astoundingly beautiful working-class girl from Berkshire, the product of an unhappy upbringing in a pair of converted railway carriages. The venue for their encounter was, in cinematic contrast, a sunny, champagne-drenched summer party at Cliveden, the country home of Lord Astor, a former Tory MP who had inherited his wealth from Waldorf Astor, his newspaper-proprietor father. Keeler was 19 and naked, having emerged from the viscount’s outdoor swimming pool. Profumo kept looking. Their liaison was brief – a couple of months, perhaps – but at the same party was another guest, Yevgeny Ivanov, assistant navy attaché and spy at the Soviet embassy. Keeler, it was said – and it may even have been true – also slept with him, possibly later that very afternoon.

The Cold War was never hotter than when this supposed love triangle rang out.

The Profumo affair – a double entendre in its very naming – was born. It reached a pause two years later when, on June 5, 1963, buried under an avalanche of press speculation, Profumo resigned, admitting he had lied when he had told parliament ten weeks earlier there was “no impropriety whatsoever” in his “acquaintance with Miss Keeler”. The Times published a leader, “It Is a Moral Issue”, accusing the prime minister, Harold Macmillan, of “debauching” the nation. In October that year, Macmillan quit during the Conservative Party conference, his resignation relayed from the hospital where he was being operated on for a benign tumour on his prostate.

The Profumo drama almost immediately recommissioned itself a second season. Six weeks on, Stephen Ward, an osteopath, artist and friend to high society who had introduced Keeler to both the spy and the cabinet minister, went on trial at the Old Bailey accused of procuring and living off immoral earnings. Keeler appeared for the prosecution, claiming Ward had turned her into a prostitute. In what is now seen as a miscarriage of justice and an establishment stitch-up, the scapegoat was found guilty. As the verdict was pronounced, he lay dying of an overdose. A suicide note read that while he was sorry to disappoint the “vultures”, he felt the day was lost, an insouciance in the charmer’s voice remaining to the last.

Like “the Profumo affair”, “the trial of Stephen Ward” became a phrase. Half a century on, The Trial of Christine Keeler subverts both dashes of shorthand. Firmly at the centre of its story is Keeler herself, variously over the years regarded as either a vixen or a victim, but in this clever retelling by the screenwriter Amanda Coe – and thanks to Cookson’s astounding performance – not quite either. Surrounding Cookson in the imbroglio are James Norton as the enigmatic Ward, Ellie Bamber as Keeler’s chipper friend Mandy Rice-Davies and Ben Miles as the lothario Profumo. In a series of interviews, each actor speaks to me with loyalty to the morally ambiguous, now departed figures they stand in for, although none is probably as indignantly faithful as Cookson is to Keeler.

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admin     12 / 12 / 2019

The Vogue UK published their exclusive interview with Ellie and Sophie Cookson as part of the promotion of ‘The Trial of Christine Keeler‘ which hits BBC One on December 29th.

Nearly 60 years after she shook Britain’s moral foundations to breaking point, a retro-glam sheen still lingers, like the faded smell of hairspray or a lipstick-marked cigarette, over the life of Christine Keeler. Now, a gripping six-part television drama – set to dominate post-Christmas viewing when it arrives on BBC One later this month – wants to unpick the myths and expose the misogyny that sealed the fate of one of the 20th century’s most hounded women.

Firstly, says Ellie Bamber, who plays Keeler’s showgirl confidante Mandy Rice-Davies with eerie accuracy, it’s important to note that the girls (and they were practically still girls) at the centre of the Profumo affair – the notorious early-1960s scandal that played a part in bringing Harold Macmillan’s Conservative government to its knees – were not prostitutes. “They were just two young women who liked having sex. Absolutely nothing wrong with that,” she says. Sophie Cookson, who plays Keeler, agrees. “They weren’t willing to play by the rules and let The Establishment control them.

Lavishly costumed and easy on the eye, The Trial of Christine Keeler – also starring James Norton and Emilia Fox – provides a heady jolt of escapist nostalgia, but its makers have a bigger mission: to snatch back a narrative. For the first time, Keeler’s extraordinary tale is in the hands of an all-female creative team, from writer Amanda Coe (Apple Tree Yard) to director Andrea Harkin (Clique), with fascinating results. “What’s so brilliant about this,” says Cookson, a high-cheekboned chameleon, best known for her supporting role in the Kingsman franchise, “is it’s truly seeing it from her perspective. Vivid, complicated, nervous, brave…

Bamber, who returns to the BBC after triumphing in December 2018’s Les Misérables, nods, furious at Keeler and Rice-Davies’s treatment. “It was hideous. They weren’t allowed to talk for themselves. They were totally used as scapegoats by men in power.

A Soviet spy, a minister for war, a topless encounter at the swimming pool at Cliveden, a photoshoot on an imitation Arne Jacobson chair… for a generation of baby boomers, the tropes of Keeler’s life are as vivid as the moon landing or the Suez Crisis. A beautiful, working-class girl from Middlesex, whose hardscrabble upbringing was beset by sexual abuse, the teenage Keeler fled to London to become a model but instead found herself a hit on the shady party circuit of Mayfair’s elite. In 1961 – thanks to her friendship with society osteopath and artist Stephen Ward, who rubbed shoulders with everyone from Prince Phillip to Lord Astor – Keeler had overlapping affairs with John Profumo, secretary of state for war, and Yevgeny Ivanov, a Soviet naval attaché and spy.

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admin     07 / 22 / 2019

“The biggest misconception about me? That I’m a ginger! Dude, I like being ginger so much, but at the moment my hair loves going back to blonde recently.” There’s an ease right now with which Ellie Bamber is telling me that one of her most previously inarguably distinct characteristics – her burnt amber hair – one which no doubt would have helped her land her breakout role in Tom Ford’s stylish but gritty thriller Nocturnal Animals as Amy Adam’s doomed daughter, was so easily interchangeable. But this confidence is the direct result of a career has been built on sheer impressive talent rather than the physical characteristics that many of her contemporaries might find themselves relying on. It’s undeniable: this is not someone whose identity and currency are tied up in her appearance. And the fact of the matter is, it’s impossible to typecast someone who has gone from gun-toting zombie slayer, to an 18th century orphan, then a 60s showgirl, next – an American exchange student whose life is violently torn apart. And let’s not forget when we gritted our teeth enviably as Bamber lived out all our girlfriend fantasies being chased around Paris by an amorous Shawn Mendes in his music video for “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back”. We still haven’t forgiven her.

As mentioned, her latest feat saw her recently take on the role of orphan ‘Cosette’ in the new star-studded BBC adaptation of Les Misérables, one that riskily swapped its beloved songs for detail more aligned to Victor Hugo’s 1862 brick of a French historical novel. “Cosette as a character is really interesting,” muses Bamber. “Hugo explains her as being ‘innocence personified’. She lives in such a sheltered environment with her father and then the nunnery and she kind of doesn’t know anything about the outside world, or probably even been spoken to about what love is. She hasn’t seen anything, you know?” This sensibility is very, very different from Bamber, who at 22 has already solo-travelled around the world for her job.

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