There are moments in Anatomy of a Scandal, a hotly anticipated Netflix thriller co-created by Big Little Lies showrunner David E Kelley — which drops on Friday, that must have felt rather uncanny for its star, Sienna Miller.

The 40-year-old actress plays Sophie Whitehouse, a politician’s wife who finds herself at the centre of a scrum after news breaks of her MP husband’s affair with a younger aide. When we see Sophie/Sienna emerging from a black cab outside her picture-perfect London home, trying to keep her expression firmly neutral as she is swarmed by reporters desperate for a headline-worthy reaction, it’s near impossible not to think back to 2005, when news broke that the then 23-year-old Miller’s fiancé Jude Law had been cheating on her with his children’s nanny. “I will not be the long-suffering spouse,” Sophie later tells husband James.

The actress has described filming scenes from Kelley’s drama as “uncomfortably close” to her real life but also strangely “cathartic”, channelling very personal, exposing experiences into a powerful performance that proves her (many) naysayers wrong again. “Like Brad Pitt, Sienna Miller is a talented actor trapped behind a film star’s face,” says the Standard’s chief theatre critic Nick Curtis. “Like him, she’s had to wait till she’s older, for a bit of the beauty and the tabloid fascination to wear off, for roles that challenged her.”

With Rupert Friend in Anatomy of a Scandal

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That media fascination with Miller was particularly ferocious. In her twenties she was victim to the same intrusive, often sexist tabloid culture which has recently been put under the microscope in documentaries like Framing Britney Spears.

Now, in the post-MeToo world she, like Spears, is often held up as an example of all the ways women in the public eye were exploited.

The woman herself largely refuses to participate in the online world, though, it hasn’t been holding her career back — in fact, in her 40th year, the Siennaissance is finally in full swing. A few days after Anatomy of a Scandal drops on Netflix, Miller will appear as a Hollywood star mired in reshoots for a controversial project by a cancelled director in Chivalry, a Channel 4 comedy written by Steve Coogan and Sarah Solemani, which promises a sideways, satirical look at gender politics in a post-MeToo film industry. This year she’ll also star in Apple TV+’s Extrapolations, an anthology series on the climate crisis, alongside Kit Harington and Meryl Streep, and directed by Ellen Kuras, the trailblazing cinematographer best known for her work on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Playing a Hollywood star in Chivalry

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Born in New York to former model (and one-time assistant to David Bowie) Josephine and banker-turned-art dealer Edwin (who would later marry interior designer Kelly Hoppen), Miller grew up in a well-to-do, transatlantic family. After boarding school (Heathfield in Berkshire), she returned to New York to study acting at the Lee Strasberg Institute.

With Jude Law

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In the early Noughties, discussion of Miller’s acting career — which kicked off with small, breakout roles in Brit thriller Layer Cake and in the frothy remake of Alfie, opposite Law — was vastly overshadowed by intense dissection of her relationships and her clothes. She inspired a generation of women to invest in floaty peasant skirts and coin-studded belts, which seemed to, rather unfairly, distract from any efforts to establish herself as a “serious” actress.

This was despite the fact that, as Curtis points out, “she famously stepped up to cover for the lead role of Rosalind in As You Like It in the West End in 2005 when her co-star Helen McCrory fell ill”, and that she had critical praise for her role as Edie Sedgwick in 2007 film Factory Girl. “I was seen as someone’s girlfriend, then someone fashionable, and you can’t be that and be good at acting,” Miller later said. “I was constantly having to… prove I was serious.”

Interest in her personal life only intensified following her explosive split from Law, and reached a peak in 2008 when she was photographed on holiday with married billionaire Getty scion Balthazar Getty. The affair, the actress later suggested, had a knock-on impact on her box office bankability (“people don’t want to see movies with people they don’t approve of in them”).

In 2011, Miller received £100,000 in damages from the News of the World after the paper admitted to hacking her phone. Later that year, she would give evidence to the Leveson Inquiry, recalling how she was often “relentlessly pursued by 10 to 15 men, spat at, verbally abused… I would often find myself, at the age of 21, at midnight, running down a dark street on my own with 10 men chasing me. And the fact they had cameras in their hands made that legal”. It was a watershed moment.

At the Vanity Fair Oscars party earlier this year

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Soon after, she had a daughter, Marlowe, now nine, with then-partner Tom Sturridge (they split in 2015, and amicably co-parent); then came roles that repositioned her as an actress to underestimate at your own peril: a turn as Tippi Hedren, the Hollywood star who became the subject of Alfred Hitchcock’s obsession, in The Girl, which earned her Bafta and Golden Globe nominations, and in awards hopefuls Foxcatcher and American Sniper (directed by Clint Eastwood). The latter two were classic “wife” roles but Miller played them with a level of subtlety and nuance that was remarked upon in reviews, regardless of her limited screen time.

Critics started to take notice. Since then, there have been celebrated performances in The Lost City of Z, indie films Wander Darkly and American Woman, and another MeToo-adjacent TV series, The Loudest Voice. “I was one of those people who underestimated Miller,” says film critic Charlotte O’Sullivan. “Then I saw her in American Sniper and High-Rise and thought, ‘oh, she’s actually really competent’. And then I watched American Woman and was blown away… She is focused and intense, so moving without being manipulative.

“I think she’s like Rosamund Pike, a gritty thesp who tolerated being labelled an English Rose but couldn’t wait to get spiky.” In her West End stint in Tennessee Williams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 2017, “she displayed genuine depth and emotional command”, Curtis says.

What next? As her forties begin, “it’s as if getting older has liberated [her] from a desire to please”, O’Sullivan says. She is slated to appear in Kristin Scott Thomas’s as-yet-untitled directorial debut, as well as Raised Eyebrows, a biopic about the comedian Groucho Marx. She wants to set up her own production company, a strategic move for stars wishing to leverage greater creative control and ensure career longevity. “I want to be doing this when I’m 80,” she has said. Don’t bet against it.

Anatomy of a Scandal is on Netflix from tomorrow



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