How to Catch a Predator (and Launch a Royal Bombshell)

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Do yourself a favor and, whether you’ve only seen snippets or have never set eyes on it, watch the full 2019 Newsnight interview with Prince Andrew. You can find it on YouTube. The conversation is just as fascinating, revealing and horrifying as you’ve heard it is. For journalists, it’s a masterclass to observe the show’s host/interrogator Emily Maitlis calmly ask questions about the nature of his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein and firmly hold her ground. For aspiring actors, we advise you to keep your eyes on the Duke of York’s expressions and reactions, and take notes on the way in which he attempts to circumnavigate answers without giving away his emotions, his motivations for such obfuscation regarding his connections to a convicted sex offender, and, quite possibly, his guilt. For professional hangmen, you can probably pick up a few tips on how to both tie and tighten nooses. Everyone else, just pop your popcorn, sit back, and prepare to pick your jaw off the floor 50 minutes after you hit “Play.”

The aftermath to what can rightly be called a landmark moment in Bombshell TV has been duly discussed, dissected, and given the timeline treatment: Prince Andrew quickly stepped away from his royal duties, was stripped of his titles, and witnessed a verdict passed in the court of public opinion. How that interview came in to existence in the first place is where Scoop comes in. Both an origin story and an autopsy of a compelling, televised car wreck, this dramatized look back at the BBC program making establishment-shaking history is a testament to perseverance, patience and preparation. Mostly, however, it’s a tribute to the power of a well-connected guest booker.

And look, it’s not like Newsnight‘s Sam McAllister, played here by Billie Piper (Doctor Who, I Hate Suzie), doesn’t deserve all the credit, speaking engagements and a thousand and one victory laps for her part in securing this sit-down. Based largely on her upcoming memoir, the movie makes sure you know the exact role(s) she played via every email she sent, every angle she worked, every sacrifice she made, every latte she slurped. Introduced striding into the office late in her ’70s movie star sunglasses and leopard-skinned boots while Barbra Streisand’s “Don’t Rain on My Parade” plays on the soundtrack, McAllister is immediately presented as both an underdog heroine and a bit of a blonde-tressed mess. There are announcements of across-the-board layoffs at the Beeb, arguments about what does and does not constitute a proper lead story, and enough editorial handwringing to require skin grafts on numerous palms. Yet even up against institutional strife and inter-staff sniping, Sam will survive against all odds. You know this is a procedural. You briefly wonder if it’s also a Working Girl reboot.

Not even getting busted for speaking truth to power about the show’s estimable host, Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson, adding another name to her list of recent Distinguished, Steel-Belted IRL Women takes), can temper McAllister’s hustle and flow. When she happens to connect with Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), the private secretary for the prince, the booker stumbles across a lucky break. An infamous 2010 picture of “Randy Andy” (Rufus Sewell) strolling through Central Park with Epstein — which, in Scoop‘s extended preamble, gets its own creation myth — pops up every time the Duke of York does anything notable. Thirsk and newly hired royal publicist think they need a change in narrative. She wants Newsnight to run a piece on the work he’s doing with young entrepreneurs. McAllister wants to talk about the scandalous association. Both seem to be engaged in the world’s faux-politest game of butting heads.

Still, the two keep in touch. McAllister thinks there’s something newsworthy here, even if her bosses Stewart Maclean (Richard Goulding) and Esme Wren (Romola Garai) aren’t sure if it’s Newsnight-worthy. Then Sam gets a tip-off from the paparazzi who took the New York shot, who she’s tracked down and started a correspondence with; he says the FBI is about to arrest Epstein for sex trafficking. McAllister sprints to Thirsk’s home after hours and warns her that some serious shit is about the hit Buckingham Palace’s fans. Now the negotiations for an interview are back on the table. Prince Andrew still believes he’s Teflon — after all, he’s the Queen Mum’s favorite son. Thirsk thinks that a clearing of the air will put this behind him once and for all. McAllister smells a scoop. “An hour of television,” someone intones, “can change everything.

Kelley Hawes and Rufus Sewell in ‘Scoop.’

PETER MOUNTAIN/NETFLIX

Director Philip Martin has himself logged in countless hours of TV directing, from the HBO miniseries Catherine the Great to, unsurprisingly, several episodes of The Crown — and lessons learned from helming the latter seem to have come in quite handy here. For those of us weaned on that show’s look at Britain’s royal family, we’ve become accustomed to Buckingham Palace as the backdrop for all sorts of media manipulations, power-struggle machinations, and straight-up melodrama. Martin knows how utilize these elements as a sort of shorthand, and once the focus begins to shift more to both sides girding up for battle, Scoop starts to find its momentum. Maitlis, Wren and McAllister come up with attack plans, even as the booker begins to sense she’s being pushed to the periphery. (Again, this is based mostly on her memoir, so it’s not completely shocking that even once the real meat of this dramatic recreation is being served, it still finds screen time for her hurt feelings.) Thirsk and her team drill the prince for possible pitfalls. As for Andrew, he’s busy yelling at maids for not organizing his stuffed animals correctly. You can already see the ship-sinking iceberg rapidly approaching on the horizon.

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The main event finally kicks into gear, Sewell and Anderson — who’s particularly good at nailing Maitlis’ mannerisms without turning her performance into karaoke acting — trade well-choreographed blows, and while we don’t get the entire 50-minute interview filtered through meticulously recreated camera angles and well-studied sputtering, the greatest hits are indeed present and accounted for. The weak deflections. The consistently held eye contact. The explanation about a medical condition in which he’s unable to sweat (!) as proof that all of those things never could have happened. The “Pizza Express” namedrops. The “conduct unbecoming” statement, followed by the instantly classic retort, “Unbecoming? He’s a sex offender.” Sewell may play Andrew more bumbling than arrogant, even though the second descriptive better sums up the real prince’s attitude throughout that exchange, yet the notion of an supposedly untouchable man repeatedly shooting himself in the crotch remains. “I think it went well,” the Duke muses after. Spoiler: It did not go well for him.

The rest of Scoop aims for something like the journalistic equivalent of a heist movie, with lots of tense glances, rushing to and fro, camera keycards treated as if they were espionage-level contraband, hushed chatter about when to announce its airing and how the royals will react. The rest is, quite literally, history. Seen more as a complement to that actual interview than a forensic breakdown of the story behind it, the movie succeeds in showing viewers that, even in this age of clickbait and quick hits, the slow and steady professionalism of real journalists attempting the Quixotic quest of practicing real journalism can still bring down a giant. You just need the perfect storm of elements. That, and a screen-ready talent booker.

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