Claire Foy and Paul Bettany on the Salacious Divorce at the Center of 'A Very British Scandal' (Exclusive)

The stars of the Amazon Prime Video series talk to ET about Britain's most shocking divorce.

Claire Foy and Paul Bettany take on one of Britain's biggest scandals in A Very British Scandal, the follow-up to Amazon Prime Video's A Very English Scandal. The season chronicles the contentious 1963 divorce between the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, which is considered the country's most salacious legal splits in the 20th century. But Foy and Bettany were not familiar with the scandal, which involved adultery, forgery, theft, bribery and heavy drug use, when they signed on to play Margaret Campbell, the Duchess, and Ian Campbell, the Duke.

"I was so surprised that it was so public -- the demise of their relationship," Foy told ET. "The beginning was as well, it was so played out in the public, them getting together. He was still married at the time when they first got together and neither of them had any interest in trying to protect his public opinion or anything like that. They just went after what they wanted and they got it basically. And then they basically thought that would apply to when they got divorced as well and it really didn't."

During the divorce proceedings, personal letters and intimate photographs of the duchess' illicit affairs came to light and were shared. The series explores the context of the time in which their divorce took place and the attitudes toward women. "He came off very well, unfortunately, in the divorce. He got what he wanted," Foy recalled. "He basically got out of it scot-free and she was dealt the terrible hand of having to deal with it, which is the story basically. The moral of the story. That so much of it was so unbelievably public and kind of low rent."

"The sense of entitlement that they both must have had to think that they could possibly get away with the things that they were doing to each other, I think, is really damning," Bettany added. 

"It does require a lot of the audience 'cause it doesn’t try and soften the edges of these people," Foy noted. "This TV show, it really shows them as they were and it requires the audience to not moralize the characters. Even though both of them behave appallingly... she doesn’t deserve to have her private life used against her to prove that she’s a terrible person. She doesn’t deserve it and nobody does, regardless of how they behave. That requires a lot of the audience to go along with that and still have sympathy for her and for him as well. But yeah, he broke into her house, stole her things and that was OK. That that was used as evidence is extraordinary."

Both Foy and Bettany were coming off well-known roles -- her as Queen Elizabeth on The Crown and him as Vision in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They acknowledged that that was something they took into account when they boarded this project.

"It was great counter-programming to be playing a cold,  mirthless sadist having been playing Vision so much in the Marvel universe," Bettany said, "so it was kind of fun to let all of that out, to explore it in a safe environment with friends and safe words."

"For me actually, I really had to consider it because Margaret is at the same period of time [as Queen Elizabeth]," Foy said. "Admittedly I’ve played the queen for, like, five years or something, but I think that for me... I hate when I’m doing it all the time, but all of this is a bit risky and I’m not really sure. Because the women of that time, of that upbringing in England, you’re limited with your choices. But that was also I realized the challenge of it was to find the tiny nuances. They have very different behavior obviously, but the nuances in the way that they behaved and maybe that would be a real challenge for me, whether I succeed or fail to make that difference. But to help the audience see the differences of women at that time."

Bettany joked that working with Foy "made it very easy" to be cruel to her character onscreen. "Yeah, I loved it," Foy affirmed. 

"It was both playful but also there were some moments when we would check in with each other," Bettany said, alluding to the more physically intense scenes. One example was when Bettany's duke strangles Foy's duchess in one particular scene. "I hated all that stuff and we would have conversations like, 'I'm gonna have ugly hands but there’s gonna be no pressure on your neck.' That stuff was awful."

A Very British Scandal is available to stream Friday, April 22 on Amazon Prime Video.

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