Monday, April 15, 2024

“SCOOP”

THE STORY – An insider account of how the women of “Newsnight” secured Prince Andrew’s infamous 2019 interview about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.

THE CAST – Gillian Anderson, Rufus Sewell, Billie Piper, Keeley Hawes, Connor Swindells, Romola Garai & Charity Wakefield

THE TEAM – Philip Martin (Director) & Peter Moffat (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 103 Minutes


In 2019, BBC’s Newsnight interview booker Sam McAlister got the scoop of a lifetime when her negotiations through Buckingham Palace secured a televised hour with the disgraced Prince Andrew, Duke of York. The interview is the most-watched program in Newsnight history, and its dramatization into a Netflix film speaks to the ubiquitous interest in the royals on an international level. From creator Peter Morgan’s Emmy-winning series, “The Crown,” to Stephen Frears’s Oscar-winning biopic, “The Queen,” and Pablo Larraín’s mesmerizing fable, “Spencer,” many artistic liberties have been taken in search of different perspectives on a widely covered family. “The Crown” director, Philip Martin, adds another adaptation to the mix with “Scoop.” It likely won’t be the only adaptation this year that depicts Prince Andrew’s interview and connections to sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. In fact, Amazon Studios has the upcoming series, “A Very Royal Scandal,” starring Michael Sheen as the Duke of York and Ruth Wilson as journalist Emily Maitlis. What makes “Scoop” a compelling standout is the portrayal of changing attitudes towards journalism and the faces people put on to grasp control of a narrative. Given the impact of social media, everyone has a voice, for better or worse. Going behind the scenes of a newsroom and a palace, “Scoop” gives voice to the women who made the interview happen and finds a primarily engaging narrative from their perspectives.

“Scoop” quickly establishes the catalyst leading up to why this interview was arranged. The film begins with a paparazzi in New York, moments before capturing sought-after photos of Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein together. These images would be scratching the surface of an even bigger scandal nearly one decade in the making. The film fast-forwards to nine years later when the photo appears in a newspaper, conveying how certain subjects cannot (and should not) go away. The truth will come out, and the story will only grow, a sentiment that Newsnight producer and booker Sam McAlister (Billie Piper) quickly catches onto. The viewer discovers that McAlister is the first person to get in the royal door. After declining a puff piece about Prince Andrew’s charitable work, she maintains contact with Buckingham Palace for the potential of another story. She finds more information on the relationship between Prince Andrew and Epstein and pushes her contact at the palace. Ultimately, she gets a meeting with Prince Andrew’s private secretary, Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), and the two women develop an understanding of the other’s intentions. When the news breaks of Epstein’s arrest in 2019, a quick-thinking McAlister visits Thirsk with a resounding message: When everyone rushes to the royal door for an exclusive, Newsnight will be waiting with the opportunity for Prince Andrew to speak for himself.

For a film that builds up to the infamous interview and Prince Andrew’s disturbing connections to Epstein, the severity of the case is largely skirted around. “Scoop” instead focuses on how the interview is secured, both from inside and outside of the newsroom. Based on McAlister’s memoir, “Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews,” the film centers on her journalistic perspective. A few of McAlister’s colleagues question her larger-than-life personality and blunt methods of securing interviews. She is described in the film as very “Daily Mail,” going against the grain of the serious mechanism Newsnight operates in. Her persistence in getting the Prince Andrew interview and her judgment of how significant the story would become, given the research conducted on her own accord, are given kudos in the film. The screenplay by Peter Moffatt (of the television series “Your Honour”) and Geoff Bussetil (of the 2020 film “Mortal”) provides solid enough characterization for McAlister. She is also given a theme song of sorts; her introduction is accompanied by Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” a recurring tune that is also the character’s cell ringtone.

As McAlister balances her job and motherhood with the underlying fear of getting fired, she questions why her work does not get the same respect as her colleagues. She has her finger on the pulse as an interview booker, from looking at social media chatter to observing her daily surroundings. This ground-level approach is not held in the same regard as customary long-established producers in the newsroom. Billie Piper does a compelling job of enriching McAlister’s perspective with a great deal of spunk and pathos. Piper makes the frustrations and tenacity of her character extremely palpable on screen. Her performance sets an energetic, sharp-witted tone that the direction picks up on and follows. The film moves at a very swift pace, sometimes to a fault, as it speeds through complex material.

While the writing focuses on getting to know McAlister and shining a light on her contributions, other characters feel too underdeveloped, given their interactions in the film. Newsnight’s editor, Esme Wren (Romola Garai), calls key shots and exerts guidance for the team. While Garai does her best to bring an active screen presence, her character’s impact gets lost in the shuffle of hurried pacing, and her talent feels wasted. Newsnight journalist and presenter Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) fares a bit better in the screenplay. She is featured more prominently in the film’s second half, and the interview segment is where Anderson truly shines. Through body language and tone, Anderson expertly conveys Maitlis’s intensity and concern. Using a tactic borrowed from McAlister when urging her to share advice, Maitlis withdraws full authority and lets Prince Andrew speak. She gives him every opportunity, whether to confess, show remorse, take accountability, or express concern for the victims, and he does none of those things. He goes into denial mode and later pats himself on the back for how “well” the interview went. Meanwhile, the reality of the matter is much different from the version in his head. The misplaced trust in his surroundings can be felt in Keeley Hawes’s subtle performance as Andrew’s secretary, Amanda Thirsk. Hawes brings an insightful approach that personifies both the sense of duty to one’s boss and the complex emotions that arise when his character is called into question.

Playing opposite Hawes, Anderson, and Piper, an impressive Rufus Sewell tackles a high-profile character during a time of extreme public concern and demand for accountability. The film’s depiction of Prince Andrew exists in the context of a specific moment. Nine years after being pictured with Epstein in New York, the media and general public have not moved on, and Prince Andrew’s team is avoiding responsibility. The physicality of this role is prominent, but not to an extent where the transformation does all the heavy lifting. Beneath the makeup and prosthetics, an intriguing performance by Sewell shines through. He finds an eerie version of humanity in the Prince as a character with a sense of victimhood that applies to himself and a desire to not “[let] the [royal] team down.” One of the most compelling aspects of Sewell’s performance is his portrayal of a dependency on being a prince. Prince Andrew has no sense of self beyond that title, which can be felt especially during the interview scene and every absurd moment of hesitation that emerges when pressed by Anderson’s character. Whether in scenes of outburst or stillness, Sewell draws consistent power for his portrayal.

The interview itself is the most riveting part of the film. Portrayed as a tense page-turner, you hang onto every word, waiting for a moment of confession that never arrives. It also captures a tonal balance that the overall film searches for and does not always reach. The seriousness with which Maitlis carries herself and presses on the subject matter and the flailing disregard shown by a bizarre Prince Andrew speaks to a startling disconnect. How he and the general public see himself adds to a recurring dichotomy in “Scoop.” The film examines how truth is represented, not only from the standpoint of Buckingham Palace looking to paint Andrew in a favorable light but also from the BBC Newsnight team and what constitutes a worthwhile story. One of the film’s most memorable sequences shows Maitlis and Andrew preparing for the interview; the editing makes them appear as though they are face-to-face in practice. Watching her journalistic approach alongside the careful coaching Prince Andrew undergoes is a resonant example of how narratives are born.

The concluding scenes after the interview have a weirdly depleted energy that speaks to the film’s imbalance of tone and concentration. “Scoop” raises engaging discussions on finding the truth in a landscape where everyone has a voice and where people in positions of power have the privilege to control a news story. The film also admirably brings awareness to Sam McAlister’s spearheading work behind securing the Newsnight interview and establishes the atmosphere of her acting independently within the BBC newsroom. However, the hurried pacing and the imbalance of tone skirt around the bigger picture of this story. Given the resonant themes at play and the engaging commitment by each of the actors, “Scoop” may have worked better as a series with more room to dive deeper into its complexities.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - The film features committed performances and engages in some compelling discussion about journalism in a changing news landscape.

THE BAD - Rushed pacing and an imbalance of tone skirt around the complexities of the story.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

Subscribe to Our Newsletter!

Nadia Dalimonte
Nadia Dalimonte
Editor In Chief for Earth to Films. Film Independent, IFS Critics, NA Film Critic & Cherry Pick member.

Related Articles

Stay Connected

98,860FollowersFollow
98,860FollowersFollow
7,305FansLike
7,305FansLike
4,490FollowersFollow
4,490FollowersFollow

Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>The film features committed performances and engages in some compelling discussion about journalism in a changing news landscape.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Rushed pacing and an imbalance of tone skirt around the complexities of the story.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"SCOOP"