Scoop review on Netflix: Rufus Sewell astonishing as ‘man-baby’ Andrew

Gillian Anderson and Billie Piper are excellent as Emily Maitlis and Sam McAlister, but it’s Rufus Sewell who chews up the scenery in “Scoop,” a dramatization of the infamous “Newsnight” train wreck interview with Prince Andrew.

Scoop takes us back to the excruciating interview between BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) and Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) that aired on BBC in 2019. As dramatized by Netflix, it’s set up as if both sides are entering wartime negotiations: “[Buckingham Palace] south drawing room, two chairs, six feet apart,” says Sam McAlister (Billie Piper), to which Maitlis quips, “It’s like a Western.”

As the guest booker for Newsnight, McAlister scored the biggest get for the news hour, a sit down interview with the Duke of York amidst his controversial relationship with convicted sex offender and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. What transpired was a disastrous interview for the pampered prince, whose defense of his actions derailed quickly as he failed to accept any responsibility for the doomed friendship or the allegations about his participation. The public backlash was swift and it resulted in the Queen stripping him of his treasured HRH status and all his military and royal patronages.

The reputation implosion is encapsulated in devastating fashion as Andrew’s phone notifications draw him out of a pampered bath and he stands stark naked from the back (probably a body double for the much thinner-in-real-life Sewell), watching the TV news deliver the perspective he has sorely lacked all this time. Netflix can be harsh when it comes to the royals, but this is probably the most embarrassing judgement of one, and frankly justifiably so.

What boggles the mind is how the interview ever transpired in the first place. Watching the events that led to the fateful sit-down makes for riveting screening. Scoop—based on McAlister’s own Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews book—forensically takes us through the tense lead-up to the car-crash interview.

It all starts with the ambitious photographer, Jae Donnelly (Connor Swindells, so wonderful in Rogue Heroes), who snapped that fateful image of Andrew with Epstein in Central Park in 2010, setting his reputation decline in motion. Cut to almost 10 years later and celebrity booker McAlister senses that there’s still a story. She connects with Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes, who brings an earnest depth to a role that might have been viewed as just a sycophant), who has been busy trying to spiff up Andrew’s image since the Epstein link. She’s been helping him promote his pitch@palace initiative, which provides opportunities to young entrepreneurs. McAlister sees her chance, however anything other than pitch@palace gets a hard pass from Thirsk.

Once new Epstein allegations surface in 2019, however, with the feds raiding his compound and arresting him again, it reignites the storm around Andrew and McAlister pounces on the opportunity. She convinces Thirsk that it is in Andrew’s best interest to not stay silent, despite the royal family’s famous moto, “never complain, never explain.” Unbelievably, Thirsk and Andrew agree that he needs to tell his side of the story and the fateful interview is set in motion.

Much like Fost/Nixon—which follows another similar mea culpa interview—Scoop treats us to the behind-the-scenes machinations of the interview itself. McAlister asks for established journalist Maitlis, who, with her whippet dog, represents the opposite spectrum to McAlister’s working class single mom, taking the bus everywhere and relying on her mother to help take care of her teenage son. Along with the program’s editor, Esme Wren (Romola Garai), it is fascinating to watch this trio of women prepare for what’s probably the most important interview in the program’s history. All three put in excellent work that demonstrates the tense and precarious nature of television programming. To put it one way, McAlister vacillates from either being worried about being fired to wanting to quit.

Then there is the interview itself, which is pretty much performed verbatim from the real thing. But it is no less astonishing. It is a testament to both actors—both Anderson and Sewell—that pulls off an enthralling recreation. Although Maitlis has been told to go for the jugular by producer Stewart Maclean (Richard Goulding), she instead listens to McAlister’s advice and simply provides the rope for Andrew to hang himself. Anderson masters Maitlis’ thinly disguised look of disgust while questioning Andrew. But Sewell’s portrayal is simply sensational. Even if he wasn’t made unrecognizable with prosthetics and makeup, his performance would have the same revelatory impact.

Sewell’s portrayal gives us the petulant man-baby that became apparent in that interview. Many people have commented that they couldn’t believe he agreed to the interview in the first place, but I disagree, I believe he would have had to come forward at some point. The stakes were just too high in this instance —he was soon to be deposed in the case of sexual exploitation—and the crime was too serious.

President Richard Nixon was under the same pressure in the famous David Frost interview. But in that case, the warranted apology was eventually extracted from Nixon, and the meeting between Frost and Nixon was played as intelligent equals, effectively shown in the play and movie (I was lucky enough to see both). That is not the case in Scoop, where the lack of perspective or empathy on the part of Andrew was shockingly brought front and center and made undeniable. You kept thinking, surely, he will say something that demonstrates he understands the gravity of the situation, or at least shows that he sympathizes with the victims. Nada, nothing past his overwhelmingly self-absorbed perspective.

It's clear Andrew has never faced any kind of scrutiny as the “Queen’s favorite,” and that comes with his odd kind of privilege. As a non-authoritarian monarchy, he is part of a royal establishment that revolves around the people rather than the people revolving around the monarchy, as they might have done prior to the world wars. We see the unquestioning way his staff laughs at his unsophisticated jokes, others currying favor while listening rapturously to his war stories, and the smug satisfaction he has thinking that he perhaps knocked the interview out of the park (shaking my head). As the queen’s aid says in passing to the BBC Newsnight crew, “Isn’t he wonderful?” (which I remember reading at the time was actually said!).

Sewell plays all this to a hilt in Scoop, as he excels in a role that demonstrates an utter lack of perception for his character. Nothing makes this more obvious than his poor joke to the Newsnight team, “I really don’t understand why everyone is so obsessed with my friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, I knew Jimmy Savile so much better” (yikes). The guy really can’t read the room. You feel like when he’s standing there nude, coming out of the bath, as social media erupts after the embarrassing interview, that it’s perhaps the first time he’s seen the truth about himself, portrayed in humiliating, deflated fashion.

The scene, however, that also stood out for me was the one where he berates a terrified maid for not arranging his stuffed animals on his bed in the correct order (for the record, he supposedly has 73 of them on his bed at Buckingham Palace). The arrogance and smugness is there when he chastises her, but we of course see the man-baby. It’s astonishing to think it could possibly be true, but apparently there are stories of him screaming at his staff over them so there you have it (jaw-droppingly out of touch).

In addition to his startling portrayal, Sewell’s physical transformation into Andrew is also mind-boggling. Forget the makeup and prosthetics, he gets his walk, the way he holds his shoulders, his very gait. And in terms of the entire cast, everyone here is first-rate, really. There’s even The Great’s Charity Wakefield in a cameo as Princess Beatrice!

Some of the criticism that I have is in the way it is tied up rather too tidily. We’ve been building up McAlister’s insecurities in the newsroom, how she feels underappreciated. This in real life apparently lead her to eventually leave the BBC and branch out on her own, but we never get this part of the story. Also, the applauding by the newsroom staff was a bit glad-handed for my taste.

That being said, Scoop is an excellent telling of one of the most famous interviews of our time. Directed by Philip Martin and written by Peter Moffat and Geof Bussetil, it is currently streaming on Netflix. For additional information, you can read about Maitlis’ opinion on the interview here and watch it in its entirety here. There’s also an article on the real-life details included in the movie.

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