The Hindu (Mumbai)

An engrossing drama on Prince Andrew’s Newsnight interview

- Bhuvanesh Chandar bhuvanesh.chandar@thehindu.co.in

DHow Prince Andrew’s infamous friendship with late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein led to the downfall of the Duke of York in the most chaotic manner possible is a story so complicate­d and dumbfoundi­ng that you almost feel sceptical at the thought of a film taking a crack on it in just over 100 minutes. But

Netflix’s Scoop, directed by Philip Martin, is headstrong in anchoring it to one major objective: to take a clinical look at what went behind Andrew’s 2019 BBC Newsnight interview with lead anchor Emily Maitlis — which played a crucial role in the “Queen’s favourite son” stepping down — from the eyes of Sam McAlister, the former

Newsnight editor.

Adapting McAlister’s book Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews to the screen, screenwrit­ers Peter Moffat and Geoff Bussetil pull off quite a few deft writing choices in this tricky narration. The most fascinatin­g of them all is where the film begins to unfold the story, when paparazzi photograph­er Jae Donnelly (Connor Swindells) clicks the infamous picture of Andrews (Rufus Sewell) and Epstein (Colin Wells) walking together at Central Park, New York, in 2010.

It is a screenwrit­ing move that you understand only retrospect­ively — Donnelly hardly features in the film — when you realise the key role that the photograph­s played in what happened to Andrew and Epstein. Donnelly’s photograph­s not only captured what Andrew admittedly regrets in his equation with Epstein, but the usage of that image by media over the years plays a crucial role in how Andrew was seen by the people before McAllister (Billie Piper) uses public opinion to urge Amanda

Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), Andrew’s private secretary, to do the interview to set things straight.

Interestin­gly, it was again another photograph, of Andrew with Virginia Giuffre (an alleged victim of Epstein who claims to have been trafficked for Andrew when she was 17), and Ghislaine Maxwell (Epstein’s girlfriend who helped him traffic young girls), that proves to have become a nightmare for Andrew, one which Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) grills Andrew over in her interview.

Scoop works largely as a fantastic exhibit of how through news media and social media, the visual medium plays a crucial role in adjudicati­on at the court of public opinion and to get justice meted out even in the court of the royal family.

In a film that is largely told through McAllister’s eyes, the one scene where the perspectiv­e justifiabl­y shifts to that of the public view is the coveted interview with Maitlis that the film has been building towards. This is a stellar sequence featuring two terrific performers recreating an abridged version of the real interview. Sewell as the greying, pale, impassive Duke of York captures even the frailer details of a man who mumbles his way into trouble, while Anderson imbues what must be going in the nerves of a woman whose career hangs in the balance as she asks a senior HRH if he had sex with underage girls.

From an attempt to “set the tone right,” the onehour interview becomes a nightmare for Andrew; Maitlis takes a tip from McAlister to “give him the space and let him talk,” and he talks, in an episode that is described as “a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion.” Andrew’s apathy, selfcentre­dness and the “nosweating” debacle during the interviews led to the removal of his royal duties, which was followed by a civil lawsuit by Giuffre, and then his eventual disappeara­nce from public life.

Scoop is a racy, dramatised telling of a sensationa­l story, but the film refuses to be reduced to just that. In the world of posttruth journalism, in which McAllister says, “We mistake talking to ourselves as news,” her defiance in the newsroom and what she does about it says that idealism always thrives in pockets of opportunit­ies. Scoop may not make you romanticis­e your idealism, but it certainly asks you not to let it be deterred. Scoop is currently streaming on Netflix

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