Sun, 19 May 2024

Newsletter sign-up

Subscribe now
The House Live All
By Earl of Sandwich
By Baroness Lister
By Baroness Bryan
Press releases

'Dissatisfying chutzpah': Matt Warman reviews 'Scoop'

Buckingham Palace: Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) and Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) | image by: Peter Mountain/Netflix

3 min read

At best a compelling assertion of the value of journalism, Scoop’s niche focus on how Newsnight’s Prince Andrew interview was obtained, and for all its dramatic affectations, is still less cringeworthy than watching the real thing

Just as the most seismic royal interview of this century is broadcast, Prince Andrew, its subject, emerges from a bath and stands naked in Buckingham Palace. As Netflix’s Scoop would have it, he’s a clunking, portly and presumably still unclean metaphor.

Oddly, though, it’s never quite clear in this adaptation of former Newsnight producer Sam McAlister’s story what the point of that metaphor really is. Netflix makes what might be an exploration of the relationship between power and the press – or Jeffrey Epstein and his victims – into a tale primarily of a plucky, hard done by, maverick producer who gets her biggest break when her subject makes catastrophic errors of judgment and execution. Her dogged pursuit of the story may have revealed how far removed the monarchy might seem from many people’s lives, but it’s not obvious the interview itself helped victims.

Many things are fascinating about Prince Andrew’s infamous Newsnight interview. Why did he agree to it? Why did he give some of the answers he did? And, presuming those answers were in some sense pre-rehearsed, what good could it ever have done? 

The best bit of the drama is, in truth, the recreation of the interview itself

How Newsnight got the scoop is a rich but a rather more niche interest. Impressive though McAlister (played by Billie Piper) clearly is – law degree, and then a switch to an undeniably remarkable TV career – it’s hard to ignore the fact that there’s at least chutzpah in seeking to make a whole subsequent career off the back of a single interview. No MP should ever, of course, have anything against a career change, but in this telling McAlister is both heroic and hard to like. Where Mr Bates was self-effacing, she’s producing her own hagiography. Producers are often the unsung, worse-paid, better half of a presenter’s interview, but the determination to redress the balance here is just a bit much.

This is, of course, a piece of television that’s just a few years from its subject. But it doesn’t explore that conflict of interest, nor does it ask whether, really, McAlister knowingly or otherwise led the Palace (personified by Keeley Hawes’ Amanda Thirsk) to believe it would get a fairer hearing. 

What it does do, too neatly – via heroic music and a rousing speech from former Newsnight editor Esme Wren (Romola Garai) – is compellingly assert the value of journalism in general. Hurrah for that: but so what?

PosterThe best bit of the drama is, in truth, the recreation of the interview itself. Gillian Anderson’s Emily Maitlis and Rufus Sewell’s Prince Andrew here are stripped of the dramatic affectations – Maitlis’ running every morning wearing full make-up and self-indulgently always accompanied by a whippet, or HRH’s obsession with the arrangement of teddies on his pillow, pale into insignificance.

Scoop’s recreation of the interview, however, is not as cringingly hard to watch as the real thing.

The interview did raise, through Maitlis’ brilliant approach, issues of power, privilege, victimhood and much more. That’s still the part of this drama that challenges us most. Scoop focuses on how she got there – and the journey is simply not as interesting as the destination. 

Matt Warman is Conservative MP for Boston & Skegness

Directed by: Philip Martin
Broadcaster: Netflix

PoliticsHome Newsletters

Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.


Books & culture