Review: Royalty, Sensationalism and Journalism in ‘Scoop’

Review: Royalty, Sensationalism and Journalism in ‘Scoop’

The British royal family hasn’t had an easy time over the past decade with the explosion in popularity of the Netflix series The Crown. Audiences eagerly watch and digest episodes, often taking its content as historical gospel rather than an occasionally (if not often) fictionalized version of the truth which, at the very least, imagines private conversations between royals whose contents television writers wouldn’t be able to know. In a film that sets a different tone but could easily be a standalone spinoff, Prince Andrew gets his own spotlight as his problematic associations threaten to lead to his ruin.

Jeffrey Epstein is at the center of Scoop, which begins with a photographer going to great lengths to get a shot of the embattled financial player with Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell), the second son of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. That connection proves continuously haunting for Andrew as Epstein’s criminal activity gradually comes to light. Producer Sam McAlister (Billie Piper) believes that she can get Andrew on BBC Newsnight to talk with host Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) and tell his side of the story, something that those associated with Buckingham Palace are obviously apprehensive about since any acknowledgment of Andrew’s well-known secret might be interpreted as an admission of guilt.

Billie Piper as Sam McAlister. Credit PETER MOUNTAIN/NETFLIX. Copyright © 2023 Netflix, Inc.

Scoop comes at its story, which is set in 2019, from multiple angles. For much of it, McAlister feels like the protagonist, constantly at odds with her colleagues for her abrasive nature and her tendency to come to work late. She believes that the quality of her work can’t be measured in typical hours but instead in deliverable results, and the relationships that she’s built mean that she can get access to those who will prove to be memorable guests and not merely be fodder for puff pieces. That attitude impresses Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), Andrew’s private secretary, who believes that her approach, coupled with Maitlis’ reputation, may well be the best thing to salvage what’s left of Andrew’s public persona.

While the actual interview between Maitlis and Andrew that eventually emerges might have been the focus of another film, the title rightly suggests that’s not the case here. Recreating it is indeed a sizeable effort, with substantial makeup and prosthetics utilized to get Sewell to be unrecognizable and look much more like the real Andrew, but this film spends most of its time on the path to setting up the interview. Seeing how McAlister and Maitlis go after the chance to speak with Andrew and how his entourage tries to shield him from possibly incriminating himself or irreversibly damaging his public image proves to be just as interesting as that fateful conversation.

Rufus Sewell as Prince Andrew. Credit PETER MOUNTAIN/NETFLIX. Copyright © 2023 Netflix, Inc.

Casting is key to this experience, and each decision works well. Piper, known for TV work in Doctor Who, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, and I Hate Suzie, brings an unflappable passion to McAlister and makes her a worthwhile protagonist even if her life story isn’t anywhere near as salacious as the one she’s chasing. Anderson, herself a previous star of The Crown playing non-royal Margaret Thatcher, doesn’t have nearly as much to do here as in other roles, but handles her significant scenes sufficiently. Hawes, likely best known to American audiences for Bodyguard, shows the human side of the royal suite, while Sewell, typically bold and sometimes terrifying in series like The Diplomat and The Man in the High Castle, captures an intriguing amalgam of contradictions in his take on Andrew.

What Scoop doesn’t quite do is establish itself as a completely independent product that can survive the test of time without any context. Epstein’s name is well-known at the moment but there isn’t all that much explanation about who he is, and similarly Andrew is showcased solely in reference to this incident and not as much in relation to his world-famous family. Such details would surely have made this film more enduring and timeless and could have enhanced the overall experience, which still remains engrossing and, fittingly, makes for pretty good television.

Grade: B

Check out more of Abe Friedtanzer’s articles.

Scoop debuts on Netflix on Friday, April 5th.

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