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‘Scoop’ Review: Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell Find Nothing New in the BBC’s Infamous Prince Andrew Interview

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Scoop is a dramatized feature about the BBC’s Newsnight team scoring a sensationally revealing 2019 interview with Prince Andrew about his relationship with millionaire sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. For a film about a journalistic exclusive, it has the most generic title possible. There are already at least four other movies out there called Scoop, including a rubbishy 2006 Woody Allen film and a 1987 adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s peerless 1938 satirical novel, a twofer satire of both the press and the British aristocracy.

Sadly, this latest Scoop has none of Waugh’s acid wit or alkaline intelligence. Although serviceable as a retread of the events that led up to the royal interview conducted by Newsnight anchor Emily Maitlis (impersonated here by Gillian Anderson), an interview recreated for big chunks of the running time, it doesn’t significantly deepen or enrich our understanding of the personalities involved — let alone journalism, privilege, sexual exploitation or the price of fish.

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Scoop

The Bottom Line Stylish but self-congratulatory.

Release date: Friday, April 5
Cast: Gillian Anderson, Rufus Sewell, Billie Piper, Keeley Hawes, Romola Garai
Director: Philip Martin
Screenwriters: Peter Moffat, Geoff Bussetil, based on the book Scoops, by Sam McAlister
1 hour 42 minutes

In an odd way, Scoop feels more like another example of Netflix feasting on the British royal family’s dirty laundry now that The Crown has gone as far into the present as it can go (or dares to go).

At best, Scoop offers a bit of context for those who might care to watch the Newsnight interview in its entirety, still easily accessible online and far more dynamically assembled than this effort from director Philip Martin, adapted by Peter Moffat and Geoff Bussetil from Newsnight booker Sam McAlister’s memoir.

At its worst, it comes across as another sanctimonious victory dance on the reputational grave of one more semi-shamed patriarch, like a British version of Bombshell, about the toppling of Fox News’ Roger Ailes. Which is always nice, but less the exercise in truth-telling and journalistic virtue-signaling than it thinks it is, and more of a showreel for skillful makeup work that transforms one set of actors’ faces into another set of famous faces.

Kudos are at least due Kirstin Chalmers’ hair and makeup design for transforming Anderson into Maitlis and Rufus Sewell into Prince Andrew, although once you notice how much Sewell’s version of Andrew here resembles former vice president Mike Pence, especially during the climactic interview, you can’t unsee it.  

Neither of the aforementioned are the audience’s main point of identification. That honor goes to booker McAlister, played by Billie Piper, whose role is to wrangle interviews for Newsnight. Oddly, the film doesn’t mention that the real McAlister, an executive producer here, was originally a barrister, perhaps because that might have muddied the way she is presented as a brassy, working-class, tabloid-skewing square peg plugged awkwardly into the round holes of the BBC newsroom, where colleagues see her as “too Daily Mail.”

But it’s McAlister who persuades Prince Andrew’s aide Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes) to consider giving Newsnight an exclusive interview with no “red lines,” in other words, no areas that can’t be discussed.

The prince, Thirsk and his courtiers are keenly aware that Andrew’s longstanding friendship with Epstein and the latter’s partner Ghislaine Maxwell isn’t going to be forgotten, especially since photographs by paparazzo Jai Donnelly (Connor Swindells) show Andrew walking in the park with Epstein in 2010, two years after Epstein had been convicted and served time for pandering and solicitation.

When Epstein is re-arrested in 2019 and the royal connection starts getting aired all over again, especially the infamous photograph of Andrew, a then-17-year-old trafficking victim named Virginia Giuffre and Maxwell upstairs at Maxwell’s London flat, Andrew and his aides believe this might be an opportunity to spin the story in his favor. All are convinced that the supposed charm of the “Queen’s favorite” will somehow work its magic even on famously tough interviewer Maitlis.

In fact, in some ways Thirsk emerges as the most tragic character in the story. A well-meaning woman in what’s mostly a man’s world — not unlike Maitlis, McAlister and Newsnight’s chief editor Esme Wren (Romola Garai) — Thirsk seems to be suffering from the employee version of Stockholm Syndrome, so acclimatized has she become to seeing things through the eyes of Andrew, the other royals and their retinue.

Like Andrew himself, once the interview is over, Thirsk thinks everything has gone smoothly, that is until the avalanche of mockery from social media breaks once the interview is broadcast, revealed in a triumphalist montage.

The movie is cut so that the story is wrapped and ready to go in an easy 102 minutes. The digestibility of it all might make viewers wonder about the parts perhaps excised, either at the script stage or in post-production.

It’s intriguing that the 2019 part of the story starts with the BBC employees watching an internal broadcast of a speech by former director of news Fran Unsworth (stage actor Lia Williams, quite wasted) announcing serious job cuts coming down the pike for a storied state-sponsored news service struggling to compete in a commercial world.

Also lurking at the edge of the script is a debate about news content between McAlister, who’s presumably all for more gossipy stories about royals and movie stars, and her colleagues who want to lead with dull stuff about Brexit, which is only an issue that will shape Britain’s fortunes for generations to come.

Similarly, the casting is interesting in an extratextual way. Piper herself started out as a teen pop star whose marriage at 18 to 35-year-old Chris Evans made her a tabloid fixation, as did her later marriage to conservative actor Laurence Fox, a noted Brexit booster. Perhaps reflecting her awareness of herself as an object of press attention, Piper played a tabloid newspaper editor on stage in Richard Bean’s Great Britain and a celebrity whose life is disrupted when her phone is hacked by the press and compromising photos leak in the TV series I Hate Suzie.

Perhaps someday there will be a film about the making of Scoop itself.

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