Scoop Gives an Entertaining, Surface-Level Perspective of the Interview That Felled Prince Andrew

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Scoop Gives an Entertaining, Surface-Level Perspective of the Interview That Felled Prince Andrew

On the evening of November 16, 2019, royal watchers and news junkies alike tuned into BBC Two’s Newsnight as they served up an exclusive interview with Prince Andrew, Duke of York. Presenter Emily Maitlis sat across from the Prince at Buckingham Palace and grilled him on a range of topics, including his long-time friendship with convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. What ensued over the course of an hour remains one of modern media’s greatest trainwrecks. Maitlis essentially let the Prince shame himself about his character choices regarding Epstein and the nature of his relationship with Virginia Giuffre, who accused the Prince of having underage sex with her.  

After the program, just about everyone’s reaction was some variation on the same question: What could have possibly persuaded Andrew to participate in an interview that let him be his own worst enemy? Netflix’s new film Scoop attempts to explain that by revealing all the behind-the-scenes machinations of how Newsnight booker Sam McAlister (Billie Piper) landed the interview. It pulls back the curtain on the negotiations, and then portrays the final product that ultimately resulted in Queen Elizabeth retiring her son from public consumption in perpetuity. 

As a newsroom drama, Scoop succeeds with its taut presentation of the negotiations and the egos at play when executing an interview of this caliber. Piper as McAlister and Gillian Anderson as Maitlis are particularly great performances that humanize the roles and responsibilities placed on their characters’ shoulders, and—with the support of Newsnight editor Esme Wren (Romola Garai)—these women persistently willed this cultural moment into existence.

However, where Scoop stumbles is in giving real contextual and professional framing for how this interview impacted the careers of McAlister and Maitlis, the state of journalism afterwards, and the zero criminal consequences for the Prince. As someone who worked in newsrooms, the script from Geoff Bussetil and Peter Moffat gilds the lily in romanticizing the outcome for the players. There’s the implication that this interview pushed McAlister over some internal political hurdle and confirmed her worth. In truth, McAlister was already a success in her own right. 

The screenplay frames the events from the perspective of McAlister as a sort of new money Londoner sporting a provocative look, with her signature peroxide blonde locks and designer frocks. She takes the bus into the sparkly BBC home office, with Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” not only blaring in her headphones, but also serving as her ringtone. Yes, it’s fun and energetically sets the stage for McAlister as a character. But it’s also all a bit disingenuous in positioning her as an outsider/underdog for dramatic purposes. She’s portrayed as the one member of the newsroom looked down on as the tabloid gal in a serious profession. And while that works to create some low grade melodrama to juice up what is essentially a newsroom story, it’s also a little insulting when the truth is McAlister is a lawyer-turned-booker who already had a long career of landing big interviews. 

That’s likely why the screenplay basically flits over McAlister’s personal life outside of the office. We get the basics, showing her as an empathetic single mother of a teen boy with help from a very supportive mum. But there’s no context provided on how she got this Newsnight gig, why she’s portrayed with hefty self-esteem issues, or even why she’s frostily treated by the bullpen. Where Bussetil and Moffat are sparse in that sense, they are very generous when focusing on her grit and savvy intuition in chasing leads that everyone else thinks are dead ends. It’s her gut that has her picking at the threads of the decade-long Epstein scandal, which continues to nip at the reputational heels of Prince Andrew’s life. 

McAlister pursues a photographer who sold the infamous Andrew/Epstein Central Park photo, and finds out from him that Epstein and his cronies are still sex trafficking in plain sight in New York City. The media has just chosen to ignore the parade of young women leaving his residence. Separately, she pursues communication with the Prince’s press secretary, who is looking for opportunities to rehabilitate Andrew’s image. Those two paths merge when Epstein is raided by the FBI and the threat of more damaging info about the Prince is suddenly in play. It’s that scenario that opens the door to the Newsnight interview. 

The most entertaining elements of Scoop revolve around the meticulous, chess-like negotiations taken by both parties as they set up the one-on-one interview. While McAlister, Esme and Maitlis are playing 4D chess, it’s quite the revelation to witness the Palace gatekeepers playing checkers, foiled by their own insular and systemic protections biting them in the ass. The Newsnight team can see these weaknesses in full display during incremental meetings that feature Rufus Sewell’s impeccable performance as the staid and out of touch Royal. He’s uncanny at capturing Andrew’s physicality and countenance, which makes how the eventual big interview goes down all the more plausible. Anderson is also a perfect fit as the well-respected presenter who prepares like this is a prizefight bout.

Director Philip Martin does a fine job framing the locales of the events with movement and creativity. The reproduction of the main interview is done faithfully with great tension a la Frost/Nixon, while also expanding beyond the perspective of just what the audience consumed. Locking his cameras on the faces of the main players, on both sides, witnessing it all go down in real time gives us an insightful perspective into answering that big question: How did this happen?

Scoop revisits this moment from an insider’s perspective, while also shining a unique light on the work it took—along with the serendipity of stupidity from the Palace—to set the stage for such a seismic media event, one that became a feather in the cap for the beleaguered BBC news team, Maitlis and the background player of McAlister. It’s an entertaining watch, but it doesn’t swing for the fences by having a broader reach or visible intention for anything outside of the interview itself. 

Director: Philip Martin
Writers: Geoff Bussetil, Peter Moffat
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Billie Piper, Rufus Sewell
Release Date: April 5, 2024

Tara Bennett is a Los Angeles-based writer covering film, television and pop culture for publications such as SFX Magazine, NBC Insider, SYFY Wire and more. She’s also written official books on Sons of Anarchy, Outlander, Fringe, The Story of Marvel Studios, Avatar: The Way of Water and the upcoming The Art of Ryan Meinerding. You can follow her on Twitter @TaraDBennett or Instagram @TaraDBen

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