Scoop: Was Prince Andrew Really Guilty?

Scoop seems like they conclude he is, but Vaihayasi Pande Daniel recommends that you watch the film to find out for yourselves.

IMAGE: Keeley Hawes, left, plays Amanda Thirsk, Prince Andrew’s press secretary, while Gillian Anderson, centre, plays the BBC journalist Emily Maitlis, and Billie Piper plays Sam McAlister who convinces Prince Andrew to give the BBC the interview that eventually forced his mother Queen Elizabeth to relieve him of royal duties.

Funnily, the recently released Netflix film Scoop feels like yet another episode of The Crown, one that the series missed showing. But an episode of The Crown on steroids because the pace of this film is far more energetic and almost nail-biting.

Like The Crown, it rummages into an untold chapter of events, when the private life of a British royal, then in service of the public, came under intense scrutiny.

This time around, it is a character we barely saw in The Crown: The once dashing Prince Andrew.

It examines the backlash the royal family had to deal with, and how it attempted to defuse and contain the situation, when it was revealed that Queen Elizabeth’s second son had once, in an unseemly manner, been bosom buddies with Jeffrey Epstein.

Epstein, a wealthy and slimy American financier was discovered to be a sex offender, abusing a string of young girls at his fancy addresses in Florida, New York and Little St James in the Caribbean and trafficking underage women.

In the manner in which The Crown got into the skin of the characters who make up England’s royal family, almost establishing a new kind of genre of historical biographical narrative, Scoop also comes up with a gifted and tight cast to play the lead characters.

Rufus Sewell portrays Prince Andrew and executes his part deftly and probably, it would seem, reasonably accurately.

Sewell’s Andrew is a bit of bumbling, shallow, not entirely unlikeable prince, whose lack of a role/profession and meaning to his life, as he greys and ages, sees him becoming even less relevant and therefore prone to mixing with the wrong types, gaining a bad reputation and living up to his status of Party Prince and Randy Andy.

That is perhaps the fate of The Spare.

IMAGE: Rufus Sewell, who played Lord Melbourne in the ITV series Victoria and Hal Wyler in the Netflix series The Diplomat, plays Prince Andrew.

Scoop focuses on how the BBC’s Newsnight team and their producer Sam McAlister are admirably successful in coaxing Buckingham Palace to give them a 58-minute one-on-one with Prince Andrew on the Epstein scandal, which he and his team see as the space and opportunity to clear his name publicly.

It highlights the backroom maneuverings that occur, as loyal royal advisors weigh the pros and cons of media exposure, hoping to control the plot, which is becoming more and more arduous in this never-ending and monstrous era of burgeoning social media and 24/7 glare of publicity.

What a tough job being a media advisor for a leader or celeb is these days!

Manipulating the spin/spin doctoring is a task Hercules could not have imagined, requiring, day by day, more enormous skills.

The film also looks at the kind of detailed and meticulous prep journalists do before a key interview, right down to clothes and hairstyles.

Titled Prince Andrew & the Epstein Scandal, the Newsnight programme aired on November 16, 2019 and was, due to strenuous efforts of the whole team, The Perfect Interview, in its breadth, tone, handling, finesse, and the most watched ever Newsnight programme, winning the mostly women Newsnight team several news journalism awards.

Viewing Scoop is a 101 on broadcast journalism for those planning such a career.

You may wonder why an interview with a British royal, that too a rather insignificant one, deserves a film. And rightly so.

That’s because they are as rare as hen’s teeth.

There have been just three royal interviews, all unfolding cosily against the backdrop of some ornate room — grander than any room we may ever see in our lifetime — packed with priceless movie screen-size oil paintings, Regency furniture, engraved china/glassware and sporting every species of cornice, buttress, moulding, scagliola, vaulting found in an interior design bible.

When I say three, I am not counting Prince Harry’s numerous television outpourings after he ceased carrying out his royal duties.

Each of these rare interviews (Prince Charles with Jonathan Dimbleby, Princess Diana with Martin Bashir) has fulfilled its scope and offered a heavily monitored, vigilantly choreographed/curated, but no doubt enthralling peek into the lives of the inscrutable British royals, who control untold amounts of wealth, jewels, lands and people power in the United Kingdom, that, of course, adds to the fascination, not just in Britain but for people across the world.

IMAGE: Gillian Anderson, who was in a four-year relationship with Peter Morgan, who wrote The Crown, plays the BBC journalist Emily Maitlis who ensnared Prince Andrew with her questions and interviewing style.
Anderson played Margaret Thatcher in The Crown.

Of the three interviews, Prince Andrew came across as least agreeable and most unworthy of our empathy and just a Brit bloke, with a posh accent and the ability to elegantly draw out his vowels, trying squirm his way out of something truly deplorable and indefensible.

As Newsnight editor Esme Wren says of the interview in the film: ‘This is what Newsnight is… We put the time in (to give) stories that need to be told… that hold the powerful to account and give victims a voice.’

Slow clap.

That can come through even in an interview with a minor prince unable to conduct himself honourably and guilty of wrongdoing.

The release of Scoop comes at a time when the royal family is not in its the best place, with both King Charles III and Catherine, the princess of Wales, in ill health. We wonder what that might do for the longevity of The Firm.

There are several little quirky scenes through the docu-film that catch your imagination.

The aide talking about the worrying day, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, when royal teaspoons won’t be stolen from Buckingham Palace after they lose their novelty.

Or the fact that in this age of fancy tablets and ritzy cellphones, the BBC’s Emily Maitlis refreshingly uses pen and paper through her interview with the prince.

The view of Andrew with his vast teddy bear collection. His sharp exchange with a member of his household who confuses a kangaroo for a bear.

Then there’s his odd comment to Maitlis when she shows up for the interview wearing pants (did it really happen?).

Or Andrew artlessly talking about how rare trips to pizza parlours are for him…

Finally, we have a rear nude shot of Sewell’s Andrew after he gets out of the palace bathtub to check his phone. I am not sure what the film-makers hoped to convey through that memorable, Emperor’s New Clothes shot…

The flab and the ageing, unattractive flesh around his waist and hanging from his buttocks perhaps intended to give a message of vulnerability and sadness. Did it hint that a royal is just a man made from mere flesh and blood?

Else, a screen revenge shot — one blow for the wronged Virginia Roberts (who incidentally worked at Donald J Trump’s Mar-a-Lago before Epstein hired her).

After seeing Scoop, the actual nearly one-hour interview of Prince Andrew with Maitlis, naturally, makes for mandatory watching.

It’s quite tickling to observe how perfectly reality was converted to celluloid and just how well Sewell acted out that BBC Prince Andrew interview, with faultless imitation of hand gestures, body ticks, facial expressions, voice modulations, range of emotions, studied casualness suggesting innocence, seated postures and so on.

That is really the magic of acting!

How many numerous, backbreaking hours did the British actor spend getting all this down pat, perhaps in front of a mirror?

Wow! What craft!

The differences are minute.

Maybe Sewell is a tad more wooden than real-life Andrew and a tiny bit less suave.

Now for the most burning question of all.

Was Prince Andrew guilty of cavorting, in the murkiest of circumstances, in bed (or bathroom or couch) with the 17-year-old fresh-faced Virginia Roberts at Epstein’s 9, East 71st mansion in Manhattan?

Scoop seems like they conclude he is.

But my answer may not match yours. So go see the film, folks.

Scoop streams on Netflix.

Scoop Review Rediff Rating: