Movie Review – Scoop

Principal Cast : Billie Piper, Gillian Anderson, Rufus Sewell, Keeley Hawes, Romola Garai, Richard Goulding, Amanda Redman, Connor Swindells, Lia Williams, Colin Wells, Aoife Hinds, Paul Popplewell, Andrew MacBean, Charity Wakefield.
Synopsis: How the BBC obtained the bombshell interview with Prince Andrew about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.


The tendrils of destruction wrought by convicted paedophile and sex predator Jeffrey Epstein, and his co-conspirator Ghislaine Maxwell, took a remarkable turn when a photograph of Epstein and Prince Andrew began to circulate in 2010, prying back the veil of secrecy around the billionaire and his cohort of famous (often celebrity) friends. It would be a solid near-decade before Prince Andrew, engulfed in scandal pertaining to another famous photograph – that of he, Maxwell, and then seventeen-year-old Virginia Giuffre together – would give a sit-down tell-all interview with British media, appearing on a now infamous (and legendary) episode of the BBC current affairs programme Newsnight, in November 2019. It would be one of the most astounding pieces of television ever produced in the modern era, with an active British Royal Family member forced to defend his association with Epstein and the claims about his own activities within the billionaire’s cohort of illegally procured, sex-trafficked young girls; a legendarily car-crash of an interview, it did near irreparable harm to the Monarchy and forced Prince Andrew into public exile, but also highlighted the disposition of those in power to escape serious punishment for their participation in criminal activity.

Sam McAlister (Billie Piper) works as a “booker” for British television juggernaut BBC, for their flagship news show Newsnight, hosted by a forcefully sturdy Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson), when she inadvertently rouses the interest of the personal secretary of Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell), a member of the Royal Family who has been scandal-plagued ever since photographs were published of him associating with convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein (Colin Wells). The secretary, Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes) is trying to rehabilitate the Prince’s public image, and believes reaching out to friendly journalists to write and present “fluff pieces” on the Prince is a gentle way to do so. McAlister befriends Thirsk over weeks and months, and assures her the Prince would be given ample opportunity to clear the air on a national broadcast of Newsnight were he to sit for an interview. As both the Prince and Maitlis prepare for the interview, McAlister and the production team live in constant fear that the Royal will pull out and they will lose the scoop of their lives. What transpires, when they finally do get Prince Andrew in the interview, is one of the most astonishing pieces of television ever produced, and one that will change the course of all their lives.

Scoop follows a very similar journalistic provenance to films such as Spotlight and She Said (as two recent examples), dissecting modern investigative reporting within the context of celebrity scandal and abuses of power. Led by a stellar British cast, Scoop recounts the background story of how Newsnight landed the infamous Prince Andrew interview, from the assurance of fairness and an opportunity to speak, to the repercussions the interview would spark in relatively recent history. I’ll be honest, when I heard they were making this film I scoffed (not for the first time in error) wondering how you turn an hour-long sitdown into a full feature film, but director Philip Martin and his writers, Peter Moffat and Geoff Bussetil, have pulled it off, with a tense, exciting, often jaw-dropping account of the machinations that led up to what has become an icon of trainwreck televisual suicide. Prince Andrew’s uncomfortable, sweatless, pizza-loving chat with Emily Maitlis has become the poster-child of hanging oneself in the court of public opinion, and it’s mainly replicated in all its cringeworthy glory thanks to a bonkers makeup job turning Rufus Sewell’s distinctive features into the rotund, bloated visage of a Royal prince.

Although kicking off with a depiction of photographer Jae Donnelly’s famous Andrew-Epstein photograph (as they strolled through New York City’s Central Park), the film switches gears to some nine years later and Sam McAlister’s struggles with keeping her job at the BBC at a time when the broadcaster was restructuring with massive layoffs, and being a single parent, with Billie Piper personifying the brash, fast-talking investigative journalist with realism and a sense of rhythm in negotiating the careful-careful interview. Piper is a standout but not the only one to watch here, with Keeley Hawes (Ashes To Ashes) and Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) forming a powerful trio of women within this retributive justice framework. They almost fall into the shadow, however, of the film’s real standout player: Rufus Sewell as Andrew. Sewell disappears into the role entirely, thanks largely to some fabulous makeup effects transforming his normally angular face into that of the the rotund Andrew, complete with mannerisms and vocal intonations that are objectively breathtaking. Andrew is, of course, a typically diffident and offish British Royal, and is portrayed here as a public incompetent, unwilling to move against the tide of his own self-opinion despite the crushing onslaught of outrage over his association with Epstein. Sewell delivers as honest a turn as Andrew as any actor could, somehow straddling the line between being a villain and a sympathetic victim despite the horrendous accusations against him. At one point you almost feel sorry for the man; but then, you don’t, because he’s a heinous sex criminal who deserves the condemnation that comes his way, and so much more.

Philip Martin directs Scoop with an eye for story and character over showmanship. This isn’t a film that breaks boundaries on any technical level, but restrains itself in favour of showcasing the tremendous cast and the brilliant screenplay. The dialogue is withering at times, blackly comedic in others, and the focus on getting the story even at potential tremendous cost does lean heavily on the BBC’s legacy – framing the chase for Andrew’s interview as somehow saving the BBC’s flagging fortunes perhaps oversteps the mark a little but it does bring an inherent sense of urgency, for whatever it means. The film looks like it was filmed in the actual locations depicted, although I can tell you that the forecourt of Buckingham Palace isn’t quite as courtyard-enormous presented here as it is in real life. The film feels “quiet”, understated a lot of the time, and even the euphoric realisation of what’s “in the can” once the interview is over is treated with a sense of sadness at the tearing down of a singular piece of the British Establishment. Scoop doesn’t seem to want to offer an editorial on Prince Andrew’s behaviour, trying as hard as it can to simply present the story as straightforward as it can, although the subplot with McAlister and her kid bring warm humanity to it – the “what are we fighting for” aspect of this tale.

Scoop is a really good film, about a truly horrible individual (or individuals, really) that doesn’t really answer many lingering questions but at least offers some insight into the journalistic story behind that cringeworthy interview. It satisfies with the payoff, I mean how could it not? It delivers compelling characters, and made me want to dig deeper into the real world who’s who involved with this story, although typing the words “Prince Andrew and Epstein” into my phone wasn’t on my bucket list for this year, TBH. As torn-from-the-headlines as Scoop’s narrative may be there’s nothing better than a condensed, greatest hits re-enactment of the story to energise the viewer and that, gentle reader, is what this film delivers. Highly recommended.

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