The Salacious Glossiness of Netflix’s Prince Andrew Drama, “Scoop”

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There is a memorable moment in the film “Scoop,” Netflix’s new dramatization of the events surrounding the disastrous, royal-career-ending interview given by Prince Andrew, Duke of York, to the BBC’s “Newsnight,” in late 2019. Shortly before the cameras are scheduled to roll, the interviewer, Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson), arrives at a drawing room in Buckingham Palace. Andrew (Rufus Sewell), who has walked over from his private apartment, is already ensconced in one of two chairs, his hulking back to her. This is not the first time that the two have met: we see them, along with Sam McAlister (Billie Piper), “Newsnight” ’s tenacious booker, and Stewart Maclean (Richard Goulding), its deputy editor, have a two-hour sit-down three days before, to discuss the fraught subjects on which the interview will focus. These include the Prince’s friendship with the late financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who had recently been found hanged in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, in downtown Manhattan, where he had been awaiting trial on sex-trafficking offenses; and the Duke’s alleged sexual abuse of Virginia Giuffre, a young woman who claimed to have been trafficked by Epstein to the Prince on three separate occasions at the age of seventeen. On the day of the interview, as Maitlis, dressed in a military-style jacket, dark pants, and heels, enters the room, the Duke swivels his head around to take her in. Apparently surprised by her outfit, he points and barks out a single word: “Trousers!”

That greeting—crude, undermining, and, frankly, creepy—is not in “Scoops,” a memoir by McAlister, on which the movie is based. Nonetheless, it has the ring of truth, establishing what both the Netflix drama and the real-life broadcast amply demonstrate: that a man schooled from childhood in the importance of protocol, and whose most critical words for Epstein during the interview will be that his former friend “conducted himself in a manner unbecoming,” has a reflexive impulse toward female objectification, and a sense of entitlement that allows him to give that impulse full rein.

In a now familiar Netflix idiom, “Scoop,” directed by Philip Martin, is glossily salacious, as if it were a hallucinated episode from the unwritten seventh season of “The Crown.” The Queen, however, never appears; she registers only as an omniscient presence supporting her favorite son’s effort to clear his name. “Scoop” never puts its finger on the scale regarding the Duke’s guilt or innocence in the case of Virginia Giuffre, with whom he came to a multimillion-dollar out-of-court settlement in 2022, while admitting no liability. The only untoward interaction with a young woman that the Duke is seen having is with a housemaid at the Palace, whom he berates for failing to properly arrange a large collection of stuffed animals he keeps on his bed. Despite such glimpses of Andrew’s peculiar private life, even a fine performance from Rufus Sewell cannot really deepen our understanding of the Duke’s inner being. (Sewell, who first came to the attention of audiences in the mid-nineties, as a swoony Will Ladislaw in the BBC’s adaptation of “Middlemarch,” does resemble Andrew with the help of uncannily convincing prosthetic jowls.) A later sequence of Andrew taking a bath and then standing, towel-less, before the TV as the interview plays and his phone blows up with notifications does capture something of the man’s naked humiliation: for all his airs and arrogations, the King’s brother has no clothes.

What “Scoop” does illustrate is the danger of being surrounded by courtiers who believe that their principal can do no wrong: his private secretary, Amanda Thirsk, played with sensitivity by Keeley Hawes, never wavers in her support; meanwhile, Jason Stein, a P.R. man brought in to manage the Prince’s reputation, quits within a month after his advice to skip “Newsnight” is overruled. But, for all this establishing of princely privilege, there is little that “Scoop” tells us about Andrew that we didn’t already know from seeing the real Prince squirm under the real Maitlis’s interrogation. Going to YouTube to rewatch that remarkable interview, with Andrew’s dishwater-blue eyes flickering and his ample chin sinking ever deeper into his bespoke collar, it remains hard to imagine how the Duke and his devoted advisers could possibly have thought it a good idea to let him speak for himself.

Anderson—who on the fourth season of “The Crown” portrayed Margaret Thatcher with an eerie verisimilitude—initially plays Maitlis with a lofty air, as if she were the queen of the BBC, slowly revealing a steel-trap intelligence. “I got this,” she assures her colleagues before the interview. “How difficult can it be talking to the Queen’s son about his friendship with a convicted sex offender?” The real-life Maitlis left the BBC two years ago, and is now one of three hosts of an indispensable daily political podcast, “The News Agents”; her own memoir, “Airhead,” was optioned by Amazon for a second dramatization of Newsnight’s royal coup, and will star Ruth Wilson as Maitlis and Michael Sheen as the Duke of York. “Will Amazon or Netflix Do It Better?,” a headline in the Telegraph read. (It seems unlikely that a memoir from the Duke, and thus a third take, will be forthcoming, despite hopeful headlines last year that he was considering following in the money-spinning footsteps of his nephew, the best-selling author Prince Harry.)

But, in the tradition of films such as “Spotlight” and “Frost/Nixon,” “Scoop” is also a narrative of newsroom heroics and of journalists holding the powerful to account. McAlister is the scrappy producer with working-class origins who pushes at the public-relations gates of Buckingham Palace frequently enough to get her foot in the door. (While waiting for her first appointment with Thirsk, she surreptitiously photographs said foot, clad in teetering snakeskin boots, against the luxurious carpet.) At the show’s end, a white-on-black postscript explains that the program was the most watched episode in “Newsnight” ’s history, and that days after the interview Prince Andrew stepped back from public duties and was later stripped of his titles. “Scoop” does not, however, offer this sobering additional coda: late last year, the BBC announced that the staff of “Newsnight” would be cut in half, losing its dedicated investigative team and making a shift into a discussion-and-debate format—the result of changing news-consumption habits in the era of social media and the decline of terrestrial TV. (McAlister had already left: she is now a senior visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, teaching negotiation.)

The irony, of course, is that even as news production declines, prime-time channels continue to mine the field’s storied archives for new content. Last year, a two-part Channel Four documentary, “Andrew: The Problem Prince,” included a rare clip of a TV interview given by Andrew when he was twenty-five years old, in 1985. Appearing on a light-entertainment show called “Wogan,” Andrew was at the time an active member of the Royal Navy, and still noisily unmarried—the tabloids regularly referred to him as Randy Andy. Back then, his interlocutor was Selina Scott, a formidable broadcaster who also happened to bear a strong resemblance to Andrew’s newish sister-in-law, Diana, Princess of Wales. Scott questioned him about his dating life as they sat facing each other. “It is very difficult for you to meet a girl, and ask for her telephone number, for example, and know that that person perhaps is terrified of all the press attention that you get?” Scott said. “Yes, I think to a certain extent they probably are,” the Prince, trim in a dark suit, replied. “But I think, if you remember, I didn’t get your telephone number.” Both Scott and the studio audience laughed, and then she gingerly moved on to address Andrew’s notorious nickname. “I’m listening,” the Prince said, looking up at her through lowered lids, a slight smile playing on his lips.

Andrew went on to explain that the Randy Andy sobriquet had been bestowed on him at thirteen at Gordonstoun School, when he accidentally walked into the girls’ building. “I don’t think that it actually fits today, anyway,” he confided, without evident irony. He had been holding Scott’s gaze as he spoke, but now his eyes flickered down, apparently to scan her legs, which were exposed beneath the hem of her silky pale-pink button-through dress. The encounter was clearly in the minds of the creators of “Scoop,” especially for a scene in which Maitlis discusses what she should wear for the interview with her editor, Esme Wren (Romola Garai). “I don’t want people looking at my knees,” Maitlis complains. “You mean you don’t want him looking at your knees,” Wren replies, then adds, “Actually, we do want him looking at your knees—that would be good TV.”

In 1985, when Andrew was young and handsome, and when the objectification of women on and off television was so routine as to go unremarked, his louche, obvious appraisal provoked applause from the audience, and laughter from Scott. The exchange demonstrated Andrew’s charm, but also his confidence in his charm—which has had little reason to dwindle through the decades, even as his once fresh good looks have been etched over with the marks of age and decadence. It is easy to imagine that Andrew’s enduring self-regard allowed him to believe, even in 2019, that his power to win over an interviewer, and an audience, was undiminished. In the Scott interview, a viewer can recognize those gestures of Andrew’s that decades later seem seedy rather than winning: the lordly tuck of the chin, the arrogant survey of the eyes. A viewer may care little about the fate of second sons of superannuated monarchs, but, all the same, watching Maitlis (or Anderson as Maitlis), dressed in her military outfit and armed with facts and dates, as she confronts, outflanks, and ultimately dispatches Prince Andrew is a heartening, if harrowing, sight. It shows that the times, at least, have begun to change, even if His now ex-Royal Highness apparently has not. ♦


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