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Billie Piper in Scoop (Image: Netflix)
Billie Piper in Scoop (Image: Netflix)

Pop CultureApril 13, 2024

Review: Prince Andrew drama Scoop hits a lot of bum notes, but Billie Piper isn’t one

Billie Piper in Scoop (Image: Netflix)
Billie Piper in Scoop (Image: Netflix)

Netflix’s retelling of the events surrounding Prince Andrew’s infamous TV interview has the sheen of a high-prestige drama, but it pays to keep your expectations low, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell.

Prince Andrew bites off the head of a staff member for not arranging his teddy bear collection correctly on his bed. “He’s a marsupial”, he says, holding a stuffed kangaroo, as if that’s meant to tell us why a man is profoundly irritated by incorrect stuffed-toy placement.

Prince Andrew is having a bath when alerts start coming through on his phone. He stands in a darkened doorway, naked, his bare arse visible, and realises his Newsnight interview has not gone as swimmingly as he and everyone around him thought it did.

As you’d expect in a film about how BBC’s Newsnight programme secured what turned out to be a disastrous interview for the Queen’s favourite son, Scoop features a lot of Prince Andrew. From the prince’s perspective, the interview was meant to put to rest allegations about his longstanding relationship with Jeffery Epstein, who had been recently died in custody while awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking minors.

Andrew – “Randy Andy” as he was known in his younger days – is played by Rufus Sewell, buried under prosthetics, including a prosthetic bum for the bath scene. It’s a great performance of a posh lad and indulged buffoon, but there is very little malevolence about him. The soft toy scene is one of the only times we get a hint of how Andrew might treat people he views as disposable.

There are undoubtedly elements of truth to the characterisation of Andrew as a posh, over-protected bumbler, but Scoop’s depiction underscores the problem with making films and television based on real-world events far too soon after they’ve taken place. 

The source material for these short-turnaround productions often relies on existing and extensive coverage that is easily discoverable. As we saw with the most recent season of The Crown, with a member of the royal family at the centre the series inevitably relies on the pull-power and glow of celebrity, creating a story that draws on factual reporting but also well-regurgitated mythology.

As a result, you end up with a story that humanises bad actors, devoid of any interrogation of the protection afforded to them or their impact on others whose stories require more work and time to surface. In Scoop, the victims of Epstein and the young woman who made allegations against Prince Andrew exist only as ghosts of paparazzi photos past. If victors write history, short history is written by those who have the least to lose by telling their story. 

It’s no accident that producer Sam McAlister, played by Billie Piper, is the hero of Scoop and not Emily Maitlis, the journalist who conducted the interview. Scoop is based on McAlister’s book, and Maitlis is the executive producer of another television series currently in production about the same event. In Scoop, she’s played by Gillian Anderson, utilising a perplexingly muted register that has drawn comparisons with her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Crown.

If Scoop has a redeeming factor, it’s Piper’s ability to dance her character away from the self-aggrandisement that threatens the entire film. With her permed blonde hair, ostentatious furlined puffer jacket and conspicuous Chanel brooch, Piper’s McAlister is the antithesis of her high-minded colleagues. If we are going to indulge in a behind-the-scenes look at a scandalous story and the the tabloid gossip machine that is the royal family (nothing wrong with that), Piper gives us that permission with a grounded and feisty performance and a sense of compassion for the victims who are otherwise so fleetingly touched on.    

Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis and Rufus Sewell as Prince Andrew (Image: Netflix)

Scoop darts about detailing the build-up to the Newsnight interview. We get many rich interior shots of the palace and studio control rooms. Everything is urgent, and we are rushing towards the climatic anchor of the interview.

Afterwards, Prince Andrew’s communications advisers take the fall for it being a disaster, not by virtue of known fact but via frequent scenes foreshadowing just how off their interpretation of the situation was. The reason the interview request is approved in the first place, Scoop suggests, is Andrew’s private secretary Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes) seemingly being touched by his recollection of “mummy combing his hair”. There is no exploration of the royal family’s grip on its acolytes nor why they all apparently have cotton wool in their ears.  

The film ends with McAlister looking at a billboard in central London that is showing the interview, after a showcase of its social media virality. It’s her moment, but it also highlights how little the film has to say about the role and impact of journalism, its interplay with the royal family, privilege or institutionalised stupidity. 

Earlier in the film, a frustrated McAlister tells her colleagues that she goes out and “gets the stories people actually care about”. The unsubtle implication is that McAlister has sensationalist news instincts. 

Just as the prince told on himself in the interview, Scoop tells on itself with that line. We’re being told we care – perhaps too much – about the royals and fast-turnaround inside stories about infamous television interviews. Scoop should have made us care, just a little, about journalism’s quest to hold the powerful to account and what changes as a result. Ultimately it raises a question about the impact of the interview itself.

By all means, watch Scoop, if only for Piper, but don’t let the prestige signalling fool you. Without its star cast and high production values, this just as easily could’ve been a Lifetime movie. Keep your expectations low, and don’t think too hard about the prosthetic bum.

Scoop is available to watch on Netflix.

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