Sex and scandal has Hugh Jackman’s Front Runner headed for disaster
PUBLISHED: 08:09 13 January 2019 | UPDATED: 10:57 15 January 2019
Sex, scandal and sensational headlines have always proved a potent combination to storytellers both in print and on film. We take a look at Hugh Jackman’s new film The Front Runner and find unexpected links with the John Profumo movie Scandal
The world of politics has seemingly always lurched from scandal to crisis to career collapse. Every couple of years (or is it every couple of months) some fresh sexual dalliance ends another promising career.
This toxic relationship between sex and power has been highlighted by Hugh Jackman’s latest film The Front Runner, which is released this weekend, in which he re-lives Gary Hart’s short-lived campaign to deny George Bush Snr the keys to the White House in 1988.
Watching the film makes you realise how similar the downfall of Gary Hart was to that of John Profumo in Britain 25 years earlier. Both men shared a love of women and couldn’t deny themselves extra-marital affairs. Although Hart was not sleeping with women who were also sleeping with Russian spies, Hart did have a number of lovers while still married and had a combative relationship with the press which resulted in his undoing in a way that mirrored Profumo’s downfall, as depicted in the film Scandal, starring John Hurt, Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda.
What lies at the heart of The Front Runner is the question whether the press, and by extension the people, should be concerned with a politician’s private life but rather focus on his ideas and his policies. This was Hart’s position as he raged at his support team at what he considered the unwarranted investigations by the press into his private life.
This again echoes the situation that Profumo found himself in, although in the early sixties the press establishment was far more deferential to those in power, but once they got the scent of impropriety they were equally ruthless in holding wrongdoers to account.
Profumo tried to worm his way out of a tricky situation by lying to Parliament which is what ultimately proved to be his undoing.
Hart, on the otherhand, tried to brazen it out by simply refusing to talk about it or acknowledge the gossip or the newspaper reports until his own family home was put under siege by reporters and his wife and daughter were unable to leave their house in the Colorado mountains.
Hart’s undoing was his hubris. He was clever, he was young, he had vision and energy. He felt that America wouldn’t be able to resist the exciting, daring, innovative future he was offering. He had been instrumental in striking up a meaningful dialogue with the Soviet Union and was even talking of inviting soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev to his inauguration.
He felt, by comparison, George Bush Snr was quiet, timid and too conservative. Why would anyone vote for him? It was this supreme self belief that would bring him down. He had ideas and it was the ideas that were important. Bush, he felt, had no ideas and just wanted to keep everything the same as it had been under Reagan.
What Hart failed to realise is that sometimes people are unnerved by change. They seek comfort in the familiar and are reassured by things staying the same. So when Hart’s reputation as a philanderer and a womaniser started doing the rounds news teams started to pay attention to the gossip.
During the early part of his campaign, Hart spent a long weekend in Miami. He foolishly, perhaps, chose to join a party boat called Monkey Business with a lot of pretty young women and the tongues started wagging.
Shortly afterwards, he cancelled a long-standing trip to the Kentucky Derby and was seen entertaining a young blonde called Donna Rice, a woman he met on the Monkey Business boat trip, at his Washington townhouse.
The mirror image to this is John Profumo meeting Christine Keeler at Cliveden, home of Lord Astor. Profumo was a regular at private house parties where the jet set and aristocracy let their hair down safe in the knowledge that their wild antics would not become public.
In the film Scandal, Ian McKellen’s John Profumo, accompanied by Lord Astor, played by Leslie Phillips, is seen encountering Christine for the first time while skinny-dipping in Astor’s pool.
While Profumo’s big mistake was denying any impropriety in Parliament, Hart’s great error was challenging The Washington Post to follow him, assuring them that they would find it very dull as he led such an uninteresting life.
He never thought for a second that anyone would take up his challenge but the Miami Herald did and were the ones who first revealed his infidelity with Donna Rice, although it was alleged at the time that she was just there for an interview for a job on Hart’s campaign staff.
The crunch comes when The Washington Post asks, point blank, in a televised press conference whether Hart has ever had an adulterous relationship. He, of course, cannot answer.
The great thing about casting someone like Hugh Jackman – whose mother and sisters live in Norfolk – is that he can make what appears to be a generally unlikable individual like Gary Hart into someone who you can, at least, understand. He becomes a flawed human being rather than a demon.
Sex and power has long gone together. Former chancellor and Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George had a string of lovers while in office. This trait has continued through the years with people as diverse as JFK, Jeremy Thorpe, David Mellor, Edwina Currie, John Major and Jeffery Archer all being embarrassed by tales of sexual shenanigans while adopting positions of moral superiority.
Power has long held a sexual allure but as the #MeToo campaign has proved it is all too easy for those in authority to use their power to gain sexual favours and this is what makes it so dangerous.
Nevertheless as both The Front Runner and Scandal prove we enjoy the fact that our politicians frequently have feet of clay as it makes for great movies and we are, of course, prurient voters.
The Front Runner, starring Hugh Jackman, and directed by Jason Reitman is currently on general release. Scandal, starring Ian McKellen, Joanne Whalley and Bridget Fonda, directed by Michael Caton-Jones is available on DVD and download.