Producers: Radford Neville and Hilary Salmon   Director: Philip Martin   Screenplay: Peter Moffat and Geoff Bussetil   Cast: Gillian Anderson, Rufus Sewell, Billie Piper, Keeley Hawes, Romola Garai, Aoife Hinds, Gavin Spokes, Richard Goulding, Amanda Redman, Zach Colton, Connor Swindells, Lia Williams, Alex Waldmann, Tim Bentick, Jordan Kouame and Colin Wells   Distributor: Netflix

Grade: C+

The 2019 BBC interview that led to Prince Andrew being bounced from the British royal family (insofar as any official duties are concerned) is the subject of this Netflix docu-drama, adapted from the 2022 book “Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews” by Sam McAlister, a former booker and producer for the Newsnight program on which the interview appeared.

Given the source, it’s hardly surprising that McAlister, played by Billie Piper, plays the primary role in Philip Martin’s reenactment of how the interview was arranged—to the degree that anchor Emily Maitlis (here played by Gillian Anderson), who actually conducted it, is reported to be displeased with McAlister’s arguably self-serving account.  So perhaps one should take the idea that McAlister was the bulldozer who prodded a cautious staff to push forward with, given palace protocols, an unlikely project—the scenario offered here—with more than a single grain of salt.

Still, what’s presented here is a watchable sort-of addendum to the streaming service’s long-running prestige drama “The Crown,” in which Andrew played a very minor role.  Here he takes center stage, though given the outcome the real royal doubtlessly would have preferred to have remained concealed in the wings.

The script by Peter Moffat and Geoff Bussetil begins with a prologue set in 2010, when photographer Jae Donnelly (Connor Swindells) snaps photos of Prince Andrew (Rufus Sewell) and Jeffrey Epstein (Colin Wells) leaving the financier’s New York mansion and going for a walk in Central Park.  Epstein had recently been convicted of procuring an underage girl for prostitution in Florida and had served an eighteen-month prison sentence after pleading guilty, though under easygoing conditions.

Nine years later, McAlister notices the photo in conjunction with an event for young entrepreneurs hosted by Andrew.  She contacts Donnelly, who tells her he has other photos showing a young woman leaving the house at the same time as the prince and Epstein. Meanwhile Andrew, whose reputation as “Randy Andy” has become a problem, is being encouraged by his chief adviser Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes) to consider giving a televised interview to clear the air, and though a recently hired PR agent (Alex Waldmann) is uneasy, Amanda contacts Sam to investigate what terms might be arranged for a sit-down with Maitlis on Newsnight.

The possibility causes ripples at the BBC, then undergoing budgetary issues, and pushback among her colleagues over Sam’s brusque manner and arguably sensationalist approach, which the program’s producer Esme Wren (Romola Garai) works to smooth over.  But the matter becomes pressing on both sides when news breaks that Epstein has been arrested on sex trafficking charges; denied bail, he remained incarcerated for a month before he was found dead in his cell, an apparent suicide.  That brings negotiations between Andrew’s people and the Newsnight staff to a higher level, and arrangements are eventually made for an interview to be broadcast on November 16.

What follows are the BBC’s preparations for the program—with emphasis on Maitlis’ efforts to completely master the facts and decide on the precise approach to take–and the finished product, followed by the fierce public reaction to it.  The curious thing is that in the immediate aftermath Andrew and Thirsk thought that the interview had gone quite well; but they were, as indicated here, swiftly disabused of that notion.  The film closes with Andrew’s acceptance of his removal from official duties.

Martin directs the story with discretion, avoiding sensationalism himself.  He does allow Piper to go for broke in her performance, and she comes off a bit much (though she’s humanized by domestic scenes involving her son Lucas, played by Zach Colton, whom she neglects just as the boy is in the throes of a first infatuation with a classmate, leaving him in the care of her mother Netta, played by Amanda Redman, while she pursues the interview).  But Anderson lends intelligence and a reserved elegance to Maitlis, who’s depicted as a seasoned, canny professional of the old school, while Sewell, with a makeover that does a good job of making him resemble Andrew, is appropriately both suave and oblivious to the impression he makes.  The remainder of the cast is excellent, and the craft contributions—Stephane Collogne’s production design, Matthew Price’s costumes, Nanu Segal’s cinematography, Kristina Hetherington’s editing—are all thoroughly professional.  Even the score by Anne Nikitin and Hannah Peel remains unobtrusively in the background.

As to the interview itself, the real culmination of the film, it’s an expert recreation of portions of the real thing, as a comparison of the full original, available on YouTube, makes clear.

In the end, however, one must doubt whether treating this story as a triumph of journalistic tenacity really does it justice; the entire project feels more than a mite self-congratulatory.  McAlister may emerge with a heroic aura, but the young victims of Epstein, and presumably of Andrew, are given short shrift, reduced to a series of ghostly images in a few photographs, their pain alluded to in the most decorous terms.  And Andrew’s fall, unlike Epstein’s, can be considered a terrible punishment only within the context of royal privilege.

So while “Scoop” is interesting enough, especially for royal watchers, its take on what’s actually a tragic story seems awfully skewed.