Scoop Review: What made the viral Prince Andrew interview special?

The new Netflix film, centred on Prince Andrew's conversation with British journalist Emily Maitlis in 2019, is a reminder of why a good interview is at the heart of good storytelling


Anamika Chatterjee

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Rufus Sewell as Prince Andrew and Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis in Scoop
Rufus Sewell as Prince Andrew and Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis in Scoop

Published: Sat 6 Apr 2024, 2:43 PM

Last updated: Sun 7 Apr 2024, 12:54 PM

In 2019, Prince Andrew gave an interview to the popular BBC show Newsnight that wreaked havoc. The interaction centred on Duke of York's alleged closeness to convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein. While Prince Andrew maintained that the association was a result of his friendship with Ghislaine Maxwell, Epstein's former partner who he'd known since her university days, the interview turned out to be the worst nightmare for the Duke of York's PR team for various reasons.

Scoop, the new film on Netflix that released on April 5, is the story of how the Newsnight team, producer Sam McAlister in particular, secured the interview (the film is based on her book). To those who saw the story unfold on social media, the film may just be educational in getting an insight on how McAlister and team pursued the story relentlessly and how interviews, that ordinarily appear to be seamless conversations between two people, demand persuasion, rationalisation and negotiation (interestingly, McAlister, we're told, teaches negotiation at London School of Economics now).

Scoop is not the first film based on an important moment of journalistic excellence, but in putting the fine art of the interview at its core, the cilm becomes imminently watchable. Journalism, as one learnt it in the pre-digital era, was about familiarising the audiences with the unfamiliar, uncomplicating the complicated. One did this by reporting from the frontline or offering perspectives that were nuanced and added to the richness of the conversations around a subject. There was either breaking news or breaking views.

The interview added a third dimension to journalistic storytelling. It was about peeling off layers of a subject to discover new dimensions. While there has always been a performative element to an interviewer's job, one that helps him or her get the best out of the subject, it never bordered on outright screechfest or dumbing down of the line of questioning.

The film poses a few fundamental questions --- how do you go about conducting an authentic and insightful interview at a time when public figures have a direct connect with masses through social media? How do you get your subject to step out of the diktat of the PR machinery and tell his/her story, however flawed or flawless it might be? How does a journalist, presenter, producer break free from the clutches of hits, likes and views in order to tell a story sensitively and sensibly?

Scoop's finale is largely word-by-word, action-by-action, gesture-by-gesture replication of the interview that was aired in November 2019. In a review of the film in BBC, features correspondent Nicholas Barber, while praising the captivating climax, writes, “... On the other hand, the reason that this sequence is so gripping is that it's a carbon copy of the real thing, and so it does raise the question of why the film was made at all. Why watch a hit song being performed by a talented tribute act when you could be watching the band that recorded the song in the first place?”

That may be a pertinent observation. But to insiders like us, Scoop is a reminder of why a good interview is at the heart of good storytelling. Interviewers are often either given templates or they adopt one (let's face it, we do end up watching some shows more than others because we like an interviewer's style of questioning). But what makes an interview truly exciting is when the interviewer is as unpredictable as his or her subject.

The film shows Prince Andrew showing the palace around to Emily Maitlis following the interview
The film shows Prince Andrew showing the palace around to Emily Maitlis following the interview

In the film, Emily Maitlis (played by Gillian Anderson), Newsnight’s celebrity anchor, is encouraged by her colleagues to go aggressive on Prince Andrew because it would make “great TV”. And yet, when the moment comes, she is measured, composed, stern and lets her subject do the talking. In doing so, she realises, she’s going to get far more from the interviewee. Her questions are short, precise and pointed, which makes them impactful. If she doesn't interject, it's because he's revealing himself to her audience.

The film's climactic scene, as well as the actual Newsnight episode, is a study in body language and how it contributes to shaping public opinion. Emily Maitlis is seated straight, her gaze fixed on her subject even as she goes through her notes from time to time. She exudes power through her gaze and economy of words. She has her subject believe he's told his story and told it well, which is why the repercussions come as a shock after the episode has been aired.

Not all viewers will look at Scoop from this lens, and it's only fair they don't. But what they're sure to see is how composure adds value to conversations. And the fine art of the interview is just that --- no screams, no theatrics, only the certitude of knowing the facts... and the job.