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Scoop Netflix.jpg

Review: ‘Scoop’ Dives Into the Infamous Prince Andrew Interview

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | April 15, 2024 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | April 15, 2024 |

Scoop Netflix.jpg

It’s the interview that was seen around the world, the cringe-inducing display of hubris and petulance that caused one of the biggest schisms in the history of the British royal family. In 2019, Prince Andrew sat down with journalist Emily Maitlis for BBC’s Newsnight to offer an explanation for his longtime friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, perhaps the most notorious sex trafficker and rapist of his generation. It was such a car crash that it led the Duke of York to ‘step back’ from public duties. Since then, with the passing of Queen Elizabeth II (Andrew was her favourite child), the accused abuser has tried to slowly worm his way back into the spotlight. Bully for him because Scoop is here to remind the world that he is, to use a professional term, the absolute f**king worst.

Directed by British TV regular Philip Martin, Scoop is as much about the process of journalism as it is the process of getting a story and how the dignity of journalism is at perpetual war with the powers of PR, money, and straight-up stupidity. It’s also a story largely focused on women, the gross sweaty prince aside. Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson), the Newsnight presenter whose cool professionalism made her the ideal choice to conduct the interview; Sam McAlister (Billie Piper), the guest producer with a combative style who manages to book the prince; and Esme Wren (Romola Garai), the show’s head producer who is fighting to keep Newsnight relevant as cuts hit the BBC. There’s also Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), Andrew’s loyal private secretary, who advises him (wrongly) to do a truly candid interview.

The fight to get the scoop (title drop, take a drink) involves a lot of Googling and texting, schmoozy drinks with contacts, and obvious metaphorical parallels to drive the message home. The opening scene, set several years before the interviews, shows a paparazzi photographer (Connor Swindells from Sex Education) chasing through New York City to get an image of Epstein and Andrew together. The workroom of the BBC is suitably glossy for drama although the entire production still has the look and tone of a Sunday night drama than a film (which is, frankly, the default mode for Netflix.)

From the get-go, a disclaimer tells the viewer that, while this film is based on true events, some aspects have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes. Okay, so we’re dealing with the standard movie-making stuff here. That’s no real shock, but it does drive home how, despite the fascinating nature of the central subject, the scope here is limited in ways it curiously avoids expanding upon. It also means a lot of shots of journalists looking like the coolest and hottest people ever, which we’re not mad at. Remember, they’ve got Anderson and Piper here in high heels stomping through the corridors in the name of truth as ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ plays on the soundtrack. But the padding is a bit obvious, such as Sam doing mum duties and offering her son advice on listening more than talking to the girl he fancies (and yes, there’s a scene of her kid looking so sad as he stands in the background while Sam takes a work call, but it is mercifully brief.)

Speaking of, there’s one absolute clanger of a moment where Maitlis, on her morning run the day of the interview, loses her dog. After calling for him, he returns on his own, and a wise man sitting nearby talks about how you can’t chase them or you’ll never catch them. Get it?!

The movie is Piper’s, one of Britain’s flintiest actresses who largely sticks to TV and theatre but is given time to show her stuff with the role of Sam. McAlister loves confrontation and juicy headlines, which puts her in frequent opposition to the stalwart institution of the BBC, which is trying to survive in the face of intense change. Piper has a canny skill for emanating a kind of prickly appeal that makes her both charming and aggravating, which is ideal for McAlister, whose colleagues often seem ready to push her down the stairs. She’s a distinct contrast to Emily Maitlis, a longtime TV journalist who absorbs facts like a sponge and seems unshaken by even the most dramatic events. While Gillian Anderson doesn’t look or sound much like Maitlis (although that sharp bob helps), her natural charisma helps to convey her presenting approach: seem welcoming then stab them in the face.

Rufus Sewell is perfectly sleazy as Andrew, an arrogant brat who truly believes himself to be better than everyone else because he was born into royalty. His panic over the news of Epstein’s arrest is interrupted by his need to chastise a cleaner for not properly arranging the cuddly toys on his bed. He expects everyone to laugh at his bad and often tasteless jokes, including one reference to Jimmy Savile (yikes.) There’s not a moment of contrition in his eyes, partly because he’s never had to show such an emotion before. Sewell does a great job of radiating the contempt that Andrew has for everyone around him, from his own staff to Maitlis to Epstein’s victims. You wonder how anyone in his circle ever thought Andrew would make for a good interview, but then you see his long-time personal secretary seem truly enamoured with the story he tells about getting his hair combed by ‘mummy’ and wonder how much of a stranglehold that royal Stockholm Syndrome has on this institution.

There’s certainly a strong running theme through the film of how it’s usually women cleaning up the messes left behind by crappy dudes. Sam gets the story but isn’t invited into the room to plan the interview while her doubting male colleagues are. Scoop is also smart enough to not girlboss things up. Thirsk is unassuming but fiercely loyal to her boss, and the cozy business dinner with Sam belies her absolute disinterest in Epstein’s countless victims.

With all stories like this, the real meat is in the process. We see Maitlis’s team planning a more confrontational approach to the interview, intercut with Andrew’s goons rehearsing his now-infamous denials. Frankly, we could have used more of that because much of the final act of the film is taken up by a detailed recreation of the interview. It gives Maitlis and Sewell a chance to show off how much they researched the sit-down, but it quickly falls into standard biopic stuff, with a side order of intense eye close-ups and their respective teams watching on the sidelines and offering reactive responses. To their credit, they do fully capture the astonishing cringe of the occasion, and it is gripping, even though it’s totally redundant. It is hilarious, however, that Thirsk truly thinks this obvious nightmare is a job well done for her and Andrew.

Stories like this are a curious one. We can’t help but want more narratives like this, real-life dramatizations that delve into uniquely strange moments of power and failure. This is very recent history and a moment that many in the British press seem eager to ignore as accused sex offender Prince Andrew tries to get back into the untouched spotlight. Scoop certainly offers exactly what the viewer wants, but there’s not much else here. The process of journalism doesn’t get much room to expand. Why isn’t more time dedicated to seeing how Maitlis tries to find the correct approach to this tightrope walk of a job (this might be because Maitlis herself is working with Amazon on another drama about this story, with Ruth Wilson and Michael Sheen in the main roles.) This was a story that took weeks of intense research to execute and so little of that is actually shown. Reducing it to a montage feels like the film is missing its own point. Perhaps the three-part drama being made with Maitlis in charge will expand upon that. That the story still feels somewhat untold after Scoop has told it certainly emphasizes where the film fails.

Scoop is now available to watch on Netflix.