thu 30/05/2024

Scoop, Netflix review - revisiting a Right Royal nightmare | reviews, news & interviews

Scoop, Netflix review - revisiting a Right Royal nightmare

Scoop, Netflix review - revisiting a Right Royal nightmare

Gripping dramatisation of Newsnight's fateful Prince Andrew interview

'I think that all went very well'. Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) talks to Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson)

What with the interminable Harry and Meghan saga, the death of the Queen and the recent health scares for Kate and King Chuck, this is just what the Royal Family needed – the exhumation of Prince Andrew’s catastrophic 2019 Newsnight interview with Emily Maitlis which probed his alarm-bell-jangling relationship with serial sexual abuser Jeffrey Epstein.

And it doesn’t end there, since looming over the horizon is Amazon Prime’s three-part dramatisation of the same story, A Very Royal Scandal (starring Michael Sheen and Ruth Wilson).

Be all that as it may, Netflix got there first, with a carefully crafted piece of work with a screenplay by Peter Moffat and Geoff Bussetil, directed with discretion by Philip Martin. Casting is all, and they’ve got the big decisions right. Gillian Anderson inhabits the role of icy inquisitor Maitlis with estimable sang froid, while Rufus Sewell was an inspired choice for Andrew. They’ve made him greyer, jowlier and heavier (and even, according to the actor himself, supplied with him with an outsized prosthetic bottom for a brief bathroom sequence).

What Sewell has done so expertly is to catch Andrew’s abrupt, slightly dismissive manner, which always gives the impression that he breezes along with barely a thought in his head and is incapable of taking anything seriously. We see him in jokey, blokey mode as he schmoozes potential participants in his Pitch@Palace scheme, which aimed to match investors with startup companies, but even when he’s being put under Maitlis’s forensic microscope during their filmed interview, he doesn’t appear to grasp that he’s standing at a personal and professional crossroads, or even on the brink of an abyss. “Well, I think that all went very well,” he comments equably as the BBC crew are packing up their gear. Everybody else is standing around in a state of slow-motion numbness.

The film makes no attempt to delve deeply into the catalogue of horrors perpetrated by Epstein, though there’s a telling contribution from New York photographer Jae Donnelly (Connor Swindells), who describes the incessant parade of young girls coming and going from Epstein’s Manhattan townhouse. His smartly-grabbed photo of Epstein and Andrew strolling in Central Park became ominously emblematic of the whole affair.

In drama as in life, it’s impossible to fathom what Andrew is really thinking behind his lunkheaded exterior. We can probably all recall the Greatest Hits of the Newsnight interview, and they seem just as insanely outlandish re-enacted here as they did at the time. The notion that he bought drinks for Virginia Roberts (later Giuffre) in the Tramp nightclub in 2001 must be untrue, he postulates, because he didn’t know where the bar was in Tramp. Yes, he really did say that he couldn’t have been doing the unspeakable with Ms Roberts on the date in question because that was the day he he was at a Pizza Express in Woking with his daughter Beatrice. And he also managed to keep a straight face when he explained that that he couldn’t have been as disgustingly sweaty as Roberts described him because of the Falklands war trauma that left him unable to sweat (a medical condition apparently known as anhidrosis, though nobody ever seems to have seen any evidence that the prince suffered from it).

So we know what we know and we think what we think. Scoop tells us nothing we haven’t already seen, but at least it does it with style. It keeps the tension cranking up remorselessly as the Newsnight team hustle to get their interview, while Andrew and his crew realise that the news agenda is going into meltdown, first with Epstein’s arrest and then with his death in prison, one of the most convenient “suicides” in world history.

Scoop is noteworthy for its powerful female cast. It’s lifted by a sparkling, dynamic performance from Billie Piper as Sam McAlister (pictured above), Newsnight’s interviews producer who pressed hard to get Andrew to sit in front of the cameras (she subsequently described his performance as “a masterclass in how to destroy your life”). Key to McAlister’s success was persuading Andrew’s private secretary Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes) that she had to get him to go on the record as the Epstein scandal plummeted out of control. Here, it seems that Thirsk initially felt the interview had gone well, but a few months later she left royal employment with a substantial pay-off.

This is also the story of Newsnight's most memorable success, and we see the show’s editor, Esme Wren (Romola Garai, pictured above with Richard Goulding), delivering an oration to her troops about how “we get the stories others don’t get” and “hold the powerful to account”. With the ignominious exception of Jimmy Savile, of course. Emily Maitlis has dined out on it ever since, with interviews and feature articles along the lines of “how I got my brilliant interview with Andrew”. Now far too grand for Newsnight, which has become a sad shadow of its former self, she’s also an exec producer on Amazon’s A Very Royal Scandal. Is that poacher turned gamekeeper, or vice versa?

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