Scoop review: Prince Andrew’s infamous Newsnight interview is immaculately recreated – but questions remain

An excellent performance from Billie Piper can’t cover up the fact that this is a slightly hollow dramatisation

Clarisse Loughrey
Friday 05 April 2024 07:02 BST
Scoop trailer

Scoop, Netflix’s dramatisation of Newsnight’s infamous 2019 sit-down with Prince Andrew, positions the interview as one of the most crucial journalistic works of recent history. It’s all immaculately recreated – the royal’s oblivious defence of past associations with convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein, his claim to it being “almost impossible” for him to sweat, his repeated references to a “Pizza Express in Woking”. You’ve got Gillian Anderson as host Emily Maitlis and Rufus Sewell as Andrew. She, wielding her BIC pen and unflinching stare. He, huffing like a toad who can’t figure out how to leap off his capsizing lily pad.

But this is a film that is uncomfortably smug about a hollow victory. Virginia Giuffre, the woman who would sue Andrew for sexual assault (the case was eventually settled out of court), is merely a name mentioned in passing conversation. Epstein’s victims exist merely as a collection of terror-struck faces caught on camera by New York pap Jae Donnelly (Connor Swindells), who famously photographed Andrew and Epstein walking together in Central Park in 2010.

Scoop, instead, considers its “mic-drop moment” to be a scrolling wall of tweets. It adapts the memoirs of Sam McAlister, the Newsnight booker who first secured the Prince Andrew interview, and in doing so turns the collective battle to expose powerful abusers into an individualistic tale of a woman attempting to pierce the elitist circles of British media.

McAlister (Billie Piper), whose leopard-print booties, black leather coat, and “Don’t Rain on My Parade” ringtone offer a hint of mafia don, has tired of her colleagues’ apathetic reliance on booking far-right agitator Nigel Farage for their news programme. She’s here for “the stories people actually care about”, any way she can get them. Piper wears the part well, having always excelled playing the kind of women with no interest in likeability.

And, so, when some humdrum PR pitch about Andrew’s business mentorship initiative crosses her inbox, she’s sent down a Google rabbit hole (Scoop does, realistically, show how much journalistic work starts by simply typing something into a search engine and hoping for the best). She ends up at the desk of Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), Andrew’s former private secretary.

There is, undoubtedly, a miserable lack of attention paid to the issue of class in journalism. But not only is Scoop’s take on it entirely perfunctory, it also serves as a slightly too-convenient distraction from what’s destined to ruffle a few gilded feathers. Here, it’s all about who gets credit for the story (Maitlis is executive producer on a rival series at Amazon), and not what the story’s about. It’s happy to revel in the most meme-primed aspects of the interview – from the camera cuts, repeatedly, to Piper’s embarrassed face as it plays out – but, otherwise, Peter Moffat’s script defangs Andrew where it can. It hones in on his attachment to stuffed animals and has him leap out of the bath and potter naked around his apartments. The royal family as a whole fade entirely from view (minus Andrew’s daughter, Beatrice, played by Charity Wakefield), and we’re never offered any real sense of the threat posed by someone living under the protection of the most powerful institution in the country.

Uncanny: Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell as Emily Maitlis and Prince Andrew in ‘Scoop' (Netflix)

Scoop ends with a semi-farcical scene of McAlister in Piccadilly Circus, as she watches every person there lift up their phones, dumbstruck, to film the Newsnight interview splashed out across the digital billboards. We then return to the BBC itself, as editor Esme Wren (Romola Garai), declares, like a knight in battle, “This is what Newsnight is. We hold the powerful to account.”

Granted, there’s urgency to her words, in the wake of the news that the programme will soon be shortened due to budget cuts and no longer provide a showcase for investigative journalism. There remain real questions about mainstream media’s ability to hold the powerful to account. But Scoop, which declares it a job-well-done simply to see a man stripped of honorary titles without ever having to defend himself in a criminal court, fails to make the argument for why any of this mattered beyond making good TV.

Dir: Philip Martin. Starring: Gillian Anderson, Rufus Sewell, Billie Piper, Keeley Hawes, Connor Swindells, Romola Garai. 15, 102 minutes.

‘Scoop’ streams on Netflix from 5 April

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