'Scoop plays like a bonus episode of The Crown, but could leave the royals sweating'

While Scoop isn't quite Frost/Nixon, Netflix's royal drama should be a big hit

Keeley Hawes and Rufus Sewell in Netflix's Scoop. (Netflix)
Keeley Hawes and Rufus Sewell in Netflix's Scoop. (Netflix)

The way the Netflix publicity machine had been hyping up its new Prince Andrew/Emily Maitlis drama Scoop, you’d have been forgiven for thinking the streaming giant had the next Frost/Nixon on its hands. Perhaps that’s why Netflix went for a glitzy premiere in a West End cinema last month, rather than holding it in the venue it was really crying out for: Pizza Express in Woking.

Now that this glossy take on that infamous 2019 Newsnight interview has finally dropped online, I’m inclined to simply give a bump up to what one of its stars, Keeley Hawes, said about it during one of many promotional tours: “It’s a bit like The Crown.” Keeley was, as always, reinventing the art of understatement there. Because Scoop isn’t just a bit like The Crown. It’s a lot like it.

It’s almost as if Netflix was worried that subscriber numbers might fall off a cliff if it didn’t fill the huge gap that was left behind when Peter Morgan’s six season saga royally bowed out at the end of last year.

So it filled that gap with what amounts to a double episode — and filled that double episode with big name stars such as Hawes, Gillian Anderson, Rufus Sewell and Billie Piper — ie. the calibre of actor you might expect to see in The Crown.

Nothing wrong with that, of course. Give the people what they want and all that.

As bonus episodes go, Scoop more than holds its own. It’s nowhere near as good as the early years of The Crown, but, thankfully, it’s nowhere near as bad as the Diana’s Ghost years either.

To borrow one more time from the Hawes verdict, Scoop is “horribly entertaining” — but more on a naked Prince Andrew climbing out of the royal bath later.

While we’re busy praising it, we should commend Netflix for managing to wring even more minutes out of that Newsnight grilling than the BBC did when it initially broadcast it.

Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell as Emily Maitlis and Prince Andrew in Scoop. (Netflix)
Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell as Emily Maitlis and Prince Andrew in Scoop. (Netflix)

Scoop runs for almost two hours, and amongst the fun there’s far too much unnecessary faff and fluff. And the truth is that unless you’ve never seen the interview, the only gripping drama to be found is in the first 10 minutes with investigative photographer Jae Donnelly’s Jason Bourne-like pursuit of the prince and sex offender Jeffrey Epstein in Central Park.

I suspect there is a fair amount of artistic licence on show as well, although that’s okay because I’m sure every viewer will spot the “Certain elements have been fictionalised for dramatic purposes” notice that was slipped in at the beginning.

Just don’t expect Prince Andrew to bite back with his side of the story any time soon. If anyone has learnt their lesson as far as the old “Never complain, never explain” motto goes it is surely him. He’ll just have to take that bath scene on the chin.

November 21st 2019 - Prince Andrew The Duke of York steps down from all official royal public duties amid the escalation of his associations in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. - File Photo by: zz/KGC-492/STAR MAX/IPx 2018 8/12/18 Prince Andrew The Duke of York attends the Sunday Church Service at Crathie Kirk - the regular place of worship of the British Royal Family when they are on holiday at Balmoral Castle. (Crathie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, UK)
Prince Andrew stepped down from all official royal public duties amid the escalation of his associations in the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. (Getty)

And the subtle visual suggestion that his best/only friend is a teddy bear. And the bit where he’s ranting at his young female servant for not displaying his cuddly toys properly. Oh, and that leaked news about Sewell having to wear a fat suit to play him. (No, I can’t think how that one leaked out either.)

While enjoying the Duke’s discomfort, we should also salute Netflix’s commercial bravery in ploughing ahead with Scoop’s release at a time when certain sections of the population might consider it poor form to be gleefully heaping more misery on the Royal Family.

Netflix might reasonably counter that by pointing out that Prince Andrew’s fall from grace had already been firmly placed in the public domain, and that if the Royal Family was so bothered about privacy right now then perhaps wheeling the disgraced duke out for a public appearance at last week’s Easter church trip wasn’t the best idea.

In reality, it’s more likely that the reason Netflix has gone ahead with the release now is to, ahem, scoop Amazon Prime Video’s upcoming version of the story, A Very Royal Scandal, which stars Michael Sheen and Ruth Wilson and has Maitlis on board as executive producer.

Presumably Amazon’s version will, like Scoop, focus on the behind the scenes battles that had to be fought in order for the interview to make it onto prime time BBC in the first place.

Whether you believe those battles were actually that tough in reality will probably depend on how cynically you view the British media and its relationship with the establishment.

However you look at it, the behind the scenes stuff at Newsnight is great fun, although, it did feel weirdly like the newsroom Bridget Jones worked in and there was a tad too much self-congratulating going on for my liking.

Billie Piper plays Newsnight producer Sam McAlister in Scoop. (Netflix)
Billie Piper plays Newsnight producer Sam McAlister in Scoop. (Netflix)

The cast was clearly having a ball too. Sewell obviously landed the plum job, and he expertly conveys Prince Andrew’s arrogant charm and utter delusion. He also gets through a lot of eye work in the role. I don’t recall the Duke’s stare being quite so creepy in the original interview — but that’s neither a criticism nor a complaint.

Sewell is run close by Anderson with her spookily realistic Maitlis/Thatcher hybrid and Billie Piper, hamming it up as Sam McAlister, the steely Newsnight producer who made it all possible. As for Keeley Hawes? While she has certainly had meatier roles than Amanda Thirsk, the duke’s dutiful private secretary, you cannot deny that her presence adds a touch of class to proceedings. You could even argue Thirsk’s story would make a much better drama than two hours of BBC journalists high-fiving themselves.

Scoop reveals how Prince Andrew's Newsnight interview came to be. (Netflix)
Scoop reveals how Prince Andrew's Newsnight interview came to be. (Netflix)

If there’s any justice in the TV world the cast will be rewarded for their efforts by Scoop being a massive hit.

As for justice in the real world? Well, it’s almost five years since the interview aired and Prince Andrew is busily worming his way back into the royal fold while Newsnight has been decimated by budget cuts and looks to be on its way out.

The royals should not laugh too loudly though. If Scoop proves one thing it’s that the appetite for Windsory tittle-tattle remains strong. Perhaps Scoop is simply Netflix’s way of testing the water.

In which case, although Andrew might not be sweating right now, some of his fellow royals should be.

Scoop is streaming on Netflix now.

Read more on Prince Andrew

The biggest revelations from Prince Andrew's 'car crash' Newsnight interview (Yahoo News, 13 min read)

Critics label Scoop 'self-admiring' but praise Billie Piper and Rufus Sewell

Two competing Newsnight dramas in the works