The film was screened out of competition at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. The theme song "Nothing Has Been Proved" was written and produced by Pet Shop Boys and sung by Dusty Springfield.
An English bon-vivant osteopath is enchanted with a young exotic dancer and invites her to live with him. He serves as friend and mentor, and through his wide range of contacts and his parties she and her friend meet and date members of the Conservative Party. A scandal develops when her affair with the Minister of War comes to public attention.
Australian screenwriter Michael Thomas and prospective producer Joe Boyd approached the BBC with the idea of a three-part mini-series on the Profumo affair. The BBC agreed to finance scripts for two of the 90-minute episodes, but support dried up when internal memos were found that forbade their production. Channel 4 turned them down on grounds of taste.
Boyd and Thomas joined forces with Palace Pictures who invested nearly £200,000 by 1985; a further £184,319 of development funding was raised from Robert Maxwell. As the prospects for a television mini-series began to fade, Palace Pictures became increasingly interested in making a feature film and estimated the budget requirements at £3.2 million. Co-founders Stephen Woolley and Nik Powell signed up first time director Michael Caton-Jones on a pay-or-play contract and began a marketing campaign to raise the finance. The controversial nature of the story, as well as its sexual content, appealed to Bob and Harvey Weinstein's independent film company, Miramax. The Weinsteins agreed to pay $2.35 million for the North American distribution rights.
The original screenplay was written as a historically detailed mini-series running four to five hours. When it was pared down to film length, it became more of a docudrama, with a chronology that is sometimes unclear. Producer Woolley arranged discreet meetings between Mandy Rice-Davies and Bridget Fonda to help the American actress with her portrayal.
Filming began in June 1988. Part of Scandal was filmed at Bathurst Mews in Bayswater, London, although Ward's house was actually at Wimpole Mews in Marylebone.
Christine Keeler took part in a publicity shoot with photographer Lewis Morley for a 1963 film about the Profumo Affair, The Keeler Affair. Under pressure to pose nude, Keeler agreed to sit straddling the chair with just the back of the chair as a screen. The film was never released in the United Kingdom, but the image became "one of the most famous and most imitated photographs ever published". Joanne Whalley-Kilmer recreated the pose for the theatrical release poster.
The Weinsteins had been impressed by the amount of free publicity generated for Alan Parker's Angel Heart (1987) when it was initially given an "X" rating in the United States. Beginning with Scandal, Harvey Weinstein would routinely help publicise Miramax's films by attacking the integrity of the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) and X ratings. They encouraged Woolley and Powell to deliver an X rated movie, and in particular to include nude shots of Whalley-Kilmer. The film was awarded an X rating for its orgy scene, but after two appeals and three seconds of edits, it was released with an "R" rating.
The soundtrack, and soundtrack album, included a specially written song by the Pet Shop Boys "Nothing Has Been Proved" for Dusty Springfield.
The film received positive reviews. At the movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, Scandal received an overall approval rating of 91% based on 32 reviews. Roger Ebert awarded it four stars out of four and said the film was "surprisingly wise about the complexities of the human heart". He praised the performance of John Hurt. Following Hurt's death, The Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw said the performance was Hurt's masterpiece.
The film made a comfortable profit.
Commenting on the pain felt by his parents when the film was released, David Profumo said "I never felt sorrier for them in my life".