Scoop review | An infamous interview becomes a lightweight Netflix drama

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An impressive cast, including Gillian Anderson, Billie Piper and Rufus Sewell, assembles to tell the story of Prince Andrew’s infamous 2019 Newsnight interview. Our review of Scoop:

A fitting alternate title for Scoop, Netflix’s dramatisation of Prince Andrew’s infamous 2019 Newsnight interview, would probably be ‘Judgement’. Variations on the word come up multiple times in director Philip Martin’s film, written by Peter Moffat: the Prince (Rufus Sewell) describes his long-time relationship with convicted billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein as being ‘ill-judged’.

When the Prince returns from a meeting with his mother, asking whether it’d be a good idea to be interviewed on BBC television about the whole affair, he recalls her saying, “I trust your judgement.” They’re words that will soon come back to haunt him.

On paper, Scoop sounds like the British answer to Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon – a fact-based drama about a journalist, in this instance Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) engaging in a high-stakes interview with a disgraced public figure. In reality, both Maitlis and Prince Andrew prove to be such remote, unknowable characters that the filmmakers themselves don’t seem to know what to do with them. Instead, the story follows Sam McAlister (Billie Piper), a Newsnight producer whose job is to convince and cajole potential guests into going on the show for a televised grilling. Often against their better judgement (there’s that word again).

With the Epstein scandal unfolding in the news and the links between he and Prince Andrew becoming ever more plain, Sam doggedly pursues whatever avenue she can to arrange an interview. The main firewall between Newsnight and the Palace is Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), the Prince’s private secretary and fiercely loyal ally.

Getting the Prince to talk will require Sam to convince everyone involved that an interview is somehow in their best interests – at the same time, Sam has to navigate the halls of another Great British institution, the BBC, with the drama heavily implying that Sam, with her tabloid sensibilities and flat on the wrong side of the tracks, is something of an anomaly at the buttoned-up, Oxbridge Beeb.

There’s the right fodder here for a taut drama, but Scoop is frustratingly uncertain in its focus and tone. An opening sequence that involves the taking of a pivotal photograph by a roving paparazzo (Connor Swindells) in New York is perhaps the most riveting in the whole film. It half implies we’re in for a tense, journalistic thriller akin to All The President’s Men – another movie set in the Nixon era.

Elsewhere, though, Scoop plays things more broadly, with scenes that land somewhere between the soapy drama of TV’s The Crown (of which Martin directed several episodes) and Armando Ianucci’s The Thick Of It. Sewell acting from beneath some heavy prosthetic jowls, suppresses his usual charisma and plays Prince Andrew as a haughty, ineffectual boob with a mother fixation and zero self-awareness – in short, the exact sort of person who might think they could go on television with some absurd excuses and non-apologies and get away with it.

scoop rufus sewell
Credit: Netflix

Regrettably, Scoop’s script lacks the sharpness required to turn it into a particularly black satire; the sheer absurdity of the Prince’s answers – and his obliviousness to the public relations iceberg he’s willingly steering towards – is only lightly touched on. Instead, the film focuses on the meetings and bargaining that go into the fateful show, and then a painstakingly matter-of-fact restaging of the interview itself, which largely plays out as interminably as the real one did when it aired five years ago.

Martin and Moffat attempt to inject more drama into the situation with a somewhat forced comparison to the showdown in a western, complete with Sergio Leone close-ups of eyes. But by this point in the tale, it’s all for nought: Anderson’s Maitlis is so stiffly written, she’s little more than a caricature; all we really know about her by the end is that she likes jogging and owns a dog.

Perhaps the most intriguing character is Hawes’ Amanda, whose staunch support of her royal boss visibly ebbs in places – something Hawes subtly, effectively conveys without the rambling dialogue the film deploys elsewhere. It’s but one moment in Scoop that hints at a more interesting story than the one we’re confronted with. The film’s focus shifts from the Prince’s bunker-like Palace to Sam’s home life (she’s a single mother to a teenage son) to the unfolding reaction on social media, but always snaps back to the airless interview preparations at the BBC.

In all its restlessness, Scoop fails to delve far beneath the surface of its central characters. The (dramatised) facts of what led to the interview and its aftermath are wordily laid out, but the film leaves surprisingly little thematic or emotional resonance in its wake.

Scoop is streaming now on Netflix.

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