‘The Trial of Christine Keeler’: The Real-Life Story Behind HBO Max’s Salacious Drama
Trial, a BBC One drama coming to HBO Max on December 9, retells the story of the Profumo affair, a ’60s controversy that helped end the Conservative Party government of U.K. prime minister Harold Macmillan. “Involving sex, a Russian spy, and the secretary of state for war, the scandal captured the attention of the British public and discredited the government,” wrote former CIA analyst Robert W. Pringle. (The saga also inspired the 1989 film Scandal, starring Joanne Whalley and Ian McKellen.)
At a country estate party in July 1961, 46-year-old John Profumo — Macmillan’s secretary of state for war and a Conservative politician on the rise — met 19-year-old dancer Christine Keeler. At the time, Keeler was also involved with a Soviet naval attaché named Eugene Ivanov.
Fast-forward to March 1963: Profumo told Parliament there had been “no impropriety whatsoever” in his “acquaintanceship with Miss Keeler,” but resigned from his post 10 weeks later and expressed “deep regret” over misleading his colleagues and the House of Commons. The scandal hung over the Conservative Party even after Macmillan resigned that October, and the Labour Party took control in the 1964 general election.
After the scandal, Keeler dropped out of the spotlight until 2001, when she released an autobiography. She passed away in 2017.
Profumo, meanwhile, transitioned into a life of philanthropy and was named Commander of the British Empire (C.B.E.) in 1975. He died in 2006.
Despite Keeler’s association with Ivanov, neither the FBI nor British intelligence could confirm or deny that Ivanov “had attempted to entrap Profumo or to use Keeler as an access agent,” Pringle observed.
Not everyone survived the scandal: Stephen Ward, the osteopath who had introduced Profumo to Keeler, died by suicide before his conviction of living off immoral earnings was announced.
In its female-centric account, the six-part Trial shifts the focus away from the powerful men who were brought down. “The central achievement of the series is to place three confident but exploited women — Keeler, [Keeler’s friend] Mandy Rice-Davies, and [Profumo’s wife] Valerie Hobson — at the heart of the story,” The Guardian’s Martin Kettle wrote in January.
The Trial of Christine Keeler, Streaming Debut, Wednesday, December 9, HBO Max