The interviewer in the frame: Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis. Image: BFA / Alamy

The problem with Netflix’s ‘Scoop’: there are no scoops

This re-enactment of the Prince Andrew ‘Newsnight’ interview doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know 
May 1, 2024

We all remember the infamous Newsnight interview with Prince Andrew from a few years ago. Emily Maitlis giving him her steeliest look; the prince flubbing repeated opportunities to express empathy for Jeffrey Epstein’s victims; the thing about how he supposedly lost the ability to sweat; the starring role for the Pizza Express in Woking.

But while none of us have forgotten the prince’s lack of bodily secretions or his foray into high street cuisine, most of us did not know the story behind the interview. How exactly it was put together, and by whom. Now there is a film to rectify this. Scoop, starring Gillian Anderson as Maitlis and Billie Piper as the gutsy Newsnight booker Sam McAlister, alongside Rufus Sewell as Andrew, arrived on Netflix in April. 

Dramatic adaptation of news events can be done well and quickly after the event; see All the President’s Men (1976). But I tend not to get excited by adaptations of very recent current affairs. Perhaps it’s just my preference, but no part of me wanted to watch the Brexit movie with Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings, nor Michael Winterbottom’s six-part series about the government during the pandemic. I just experienced those things in real life. I didn’t enjoy watching Boris Johnson on the television while trapped in my living room for months, so why would I watch a facsimile of him played by Kenneth Branagh? Maybe that show was good, but I will simply never find out for myself. 

I did, however, watch Scoop—and discovered that it has a problem. The original interview was great television because it showed a member of the royal family revealing how out of touch they were with the public—most of whom would have expected at least a little self-admonition about his friendship with the convicted sex offender Epstein—and because of all the stranger-than-fiction elements, like the sweat. But for a how-the-sausage-was-made film about a well-known event to be gripping, the sausage needs to have surprising ingredients. This apparently wasn’t the case for the Prince Andrew interview. Certainly, the real people involved—Maitlis herself; the booker, McAlister; Andrew’s press secretary, Amanda Thirsk, played by Keeley Hawes; the director of BBC News, Fran Unsworth and so on—did their jobs well in arranging the Newsnight interview. But the actual nature of that work was not dramatic enough to bear the weight of more than an hour and a half’s re-enactment, complete with the genre-standard, tense percussive soundtrack. 

You’ll notice all the above-mentioned people are women. I had the feeling that, when Scoop was being conceived, this fact formed a central part of the pitch. Perhaps I am letting feminism down to say it, but just because a group of women organised something, this does not mean the organisation of that thing is necessarily interesting. 

You can feel—uncomfortably—the production’s effort to drum up suspense

They tried to spice things up here. There is some half-baked stuff about rivalry between the polished and professional Maitlis and the more down-to-earth McAlister. We meet McAlister’s son and are asked briefly to care about his new girlfriend at school. There is a sequence in which one of the reporters has to ride on a motorbike to deliver the memory card with the recorded interview back to the BBC from Buckingham Palace, which might have been exciting—if he were doing anything other than delivering a memory card under no threat whatsoever. You can feel—uncomfortably—the production’s effort to drum up suspense. 

As I watched, the question that kept insisting itself was: why have they made this? Anderson had a perfect replica of Maitlis’s haircut and statesman-like trouser suit, and Sewell looked upsettingly like Andrew in prosthetics. But: so what? Scoop is not more riveting than the original interview. It’s not packed full of juicy backstage details that help us understand Andrew or Maitlis any better. With due respect to Maitlis, a giant of broadcasting, if all we learn about her is that she has a whippet and likes to go running, I’m not sure this story was worth it. 

The film culminates in the same way as many other stories of dogged reporting triumph: with a speech in the newsroom, while the other staff stand around in their lanyards smiling meaningfully at each other, a glimmer of righteous victory in their eyes. “This is what Newsnight is,” Romola Garai as Esme Wren, the programme’s editor, announces. A place to “hold the powerful to account and give victims a voice”. Fine. True, if a little pat. But in that case, I’d rather be watching Newsnight.