Prince Andrew interview drama misses the point

The success of The Crown has proven just how much the public loves to see actors recreating the British royal family’s troubles, so it was probably inevitable that someone would turn the behind-the-scenes story of this landmark interview into a scripted drama. The only surprise is that there are two of them to choose from. Amazon Studios is making a three-part series starring Ruth Wilson as Maitlis and Michael Sheen as Prince Andrew, but first we have Scoop, a Netflix film directed by Philip Martin (who made several episodes of The Crown), with Gillian Anderson as Maitlis and Rufus Sewell as the Duke of York. A tip of the crown to the hair and make-up artists who helped both actors to resemble their real-life counterparts so closely.

Not that either Maitlis or the prince is the central character. Scoop is adapted from a memoir by Sam McAlister, who had the job of booking guests for Newsnight, and she is at the heart of the film, played by Billie Piper: the director loves shots of her strutting towards the BBC’s London headquarters, Broadcasting House, in high-heeled boots, a long black coat and designer sunglasses. Once she’s inside Broadcasting House, though, Sam has to put up with the grumblings of snobbish colleagues who don’t think that a kebab-eating single mother belongs on the team. Her boss, Esme Wren (Romola Garai), doesn’t participate in this grumbling, but the film’s overarching theme is how frustrating it is for Sam to be left out and looked down upon by people who consider themselves to be classier than she is.

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Piper is extraordinarily expressive, and does a terrific job of selling Sam’s anger and determination. And the screenplay, by Peter Moffat, establishes how skilfully Sam builds a relationship with the Prince’s doting private secretary, Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes). All the same, when Scoop gets to the bland scenes of Sam at home, counselling her son on how to talk to a girl he has a crush on, you can’t help but ask whether it should have put so much emphasis on her. The programme was, after all, an enquiry into the Queen’s favourite son’s links to sex traffickers Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Weren’t there more important issues to explore than a journalist’s hurt feelings? And didn’t the other Newsnight staffers have a bigger part to play? In Scoop, it’s not at all clear what Wren brings to the process, and Maitlis is little more than a cypher with an ever-present pet whippet in place of a personality.

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