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Scoop on Netflix review: Gillian Anderson and Billie Piper offer note-perfect performances

Rufus Sewell and Gillian Anderson star as the Duke of York and Emily Maitlis in Scoop (Netflix/PA)
Rufus Sewell and Gillian Anderson star as the Duke of York and Emily Maitlis in Scoop (Netflix/PA)

The way to watch Scoop is from behind your fingers. The Newsnight interview by Emily Maitlis of Prince Andrew was grisly to watch at the time and its repetition here by Netflix, even with Rufus Sewell as Andrew and Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis, is as terrible as it was then.

Do the Royals never learn that interviews, unless heavily curated and preferably policed by Alistair Campbell, are never a good idea? It was disastrous with Diana, disastrous with Charles (positively the only thing anyone remembers was the admission of adultery with Camilla) and it was calamitous with Andrew, a man who, given enough rope to hang himself, doesn’t hesitate for a second to tie a nice firm knot.

But the real title of the piece should have been Scalp rather than Scoop, the title of Evelyn Waugh’s devastating novel on journalism. Because it isn’t really investigative reporting we’re talking about here. Newsnight didn’t discover the Epstein horrors or indeed identify the Queen’s second son as a friend, who frequented his appalling parties. Others did, and they, rightly got the acclaim.

Rufus Sewell as the Duke of York in new Netflix drama Scoop (Peter Mountain/Netflix/PA) (PA Media)
Rufus Sewell as the Duke of York in new Netflix drama Scoop (Peter Mountain/Netflix/PA) (PA Media)

What Newsnight’s Sam McAlister did – and Billie Piper steals this show – was to take advantage of the offer of an interview from the Prince’s press secretary. The “scoop” was handed to Newsnight gift wrapped. Getting Amanda Thirsk to hand over the prize was certainly a choice bit of manipulation and getting the Queen’s second son to incriminate himself on television was a doddle by comparison, but Scoop suggests that the programme did the digging… it didn’t.

The whole thing is a puff for the BBC. We’re presented with the Corporation in crisis (again) and having to make job cuts – and people’s eyes are resting on Sam McAlister (Piper), who doesn’t seem at all interested in Brexit and points out home truths about on-message Maitlis. At the end, after Maitlis has duly eviscerated the Prince, the Beeb’s Esme Wren (Romola Garai) declares to acclaim that this is what the Corporation is for… holding the powerful to account. Cheers for fearless news reporting!

Trouble is, we never really get to know anything about Virginia Giuffre, the 17 year old in that picture with the Prince, and Epstein’s victims are absent from the scene… so one possible response to Scoop is to feel rather sorry for Andrew. Rufus Sewell isn’t a close likeness but he captures something of the trademark Hanoverian heaviness of face and, still more, his utter inability to see himself as others see him.

There are some cruel touches – we see Andrew getting testy with a maid for misplacing his childhood toys on his bed (“the clue is that it’s a marsupial… Roo, as in Kanga?”) and we get a gratuitous flash of Rufus’s bare bum when he hauls himself out of the bath to watch the interview, but he certainly nails the Prince’s struggle to articulate his values, or indeed anything.

But pitting this poor booby against the pitiless Emily – played with eerie exactitude by the lovely Gillian – was like putting a rabbit in the way of a boa constrictor. When Emily presents herself for the interview, Andrew has one word for her: “Trousers!”, he declares, examining her outfit.

Billie Piper as Sam McAlister in Scoop (PETER MOUNTAIN/NETFLIX)
Billie Piper as Sam McAlister in Scoop (PETER MOUNTAIN/NETFLIX)

At the end – and this is apparently real – he declared cheerily, “That went rather well”. Oh dear. Andrew’s aide, Amanda Thirsk, gets off lightly here: as played by Hawes, this twit takes the view that to meet Andrew was to be charmed by him. Quite how the Palace gave her free rein remains a mystery.

Scoop in real life got its scalp: Andrew, after an interview with the Queen which was left to the imagination, stepped down from royal duties and paid Virginia Giuffre millions of dollars for… well, we don’t know. Although he maintains his vehement denials.

Others of Epstein’s associates – those guests at his ghastly island – have not had the same treatment. Some things just never change, don’t they?

Scoop is streaming on Netflix from April 5