In the final minutes of Netflix’s Scoop, a fictionalised behind-the-scenes account of Newsnight’s infamous Prince Andrew interview, Billie Piper’s character Sam buys a kebab. Two lamb shawarmas – her usual, says the vendor, who gestures at the TV news and asks if she’s seen all this business with the prince? Boy, he’d love to have been in the room when that interview was filmed. Sam McAlister looks wistfully at the screen with the beginning of a smile on her face. “Yeah I did. I saw it,” she tells him, and then turns and leaves.

So humble. So real. So unmotivated by personal glory. Sam McAlister could have told the kebab shop man that she very much was in the room when that interview was filmed, and that as the guest booker on Newsnight, without her it might never even have happened. She doesn’t. The former barrister prefers to keep her light under its bushel and simply publish a memoir, give a Tedx Talk, and produce a Netflix film starring Billie Piper and Gillian Anderson to explain just how central she was to this very big deal.

The size of this very big deal is never understated in Philip Martin’s Scoop, adapted by Silk’s Peter Moffat from McAlister’s memoir Scoops (the title’s been changed to the singular because the film zeroes in only on the Prince Andrew stuff and jettisons the stories about booking Julian Assange, Amy Schumer and more).

But the biggest deal of all is McAlister herself – a scrappy outsider vindicated when her instincts prove better than those of her snooty, exclusionary colleagues at the BBC. It was her ability to sniff out a story that got the ball rolling. It was her forthright approach that won over Prince Andrew (an overinflated Rufus Sewell playing the Prince as a bumbling, unsympathetic man-child). It was her sage tip that helped the highly experienced journalist Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson, doing an excellent impersonation) to her interviewing coup. It was all her, her, her. Not that she likes to talk about it.

The film opens with New York-based paparazzo Jae Donnelly (Sex Education’s Connor Swindells) in pursuit of the snap that would plague the Duke of York for a decade: the prince walking through Central Park with post-release sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Donnelly (seen here explaining the moral high ground of his work tailing Katie Holmes’ young daughter around New York City smoothie bars) is styled as a conscience-led photographer. As he snaps shots of one of Epstein’s victims, he momentarily turns the lens away in respect. If only somebody were brave enough to speak for these girls and give a voice to the voiceless.

Enter: McAlister and the Newsnight team, whose motives are only pure and who speak only in media studies arguments about the vital and changing role of the press. No-one in this collection of characters is funny or self-aware; they’re earnest to an unbelievable degree. It’s an attitude that culminates in Maitlis thoughtfully chewing over a wise metaphor from a dog walker in her local park, and a po-faced congratulatory speech by Newsnight editor Esme Wren (Romola Garai, given criminally little to do) that no British newsperson could deliver with a straight face. No, they didn’t all have to talk like characters from Succession, but if realism happened to have been the goal, a little wit and irreverence would have gone a long way.

The film’s first hour builds tension well, but by the time the prince is locked down and the cameras roll, it all gets a bit Gogglebox and we’re reduced to watching characters watching TV – just with less entertainment value. Overall, it lacks a perspective beyond: wowzer, Sam, you star! Perhaps more harmful is that Scoop can’t decide exactly what to do with the survivors of Epstein’s trafficking abuse and so mostly ignores them while displaying vague deference to victims everywhere – which is at least more than Prince Andrew managed in that interview.

The cast, led by the always captivating Piper, is strong, and there’s a bit of bite in the portrayal of the prince – particularly so in one scene in which he berates a palace servant for wrongly arranging his teddy bears – but the whole thing lives too much in deference to McAlister’s achievements to really breathe.

If, when Radio Times ran a cover story in July 2020 on the making-of the Newsnight interview with the coverline “How We Did It”, Sam McAlister’s face had been included next to that of broadcaster Emily Maitlis and Newsnight editor Esme Wren, perhaps McAlister wouldn’t have felt the need to publish the memoir excavated for this film. And if she hadn’t sold the rights for this Netflix production, then perhaps Maitlis wouldn’t be producing a rival version of this same story for Prime Video starring Michael Sheen as Prince Andrew.

They’re not duelling productions, Maitlis assures Deadline, but they are very different beasts. McAlister’s version, she says, takes the story “to brand new heights.” What she doesn’t say, but several book reviewers did including Private Eye’s, is that those heights may well stretch just how pivotal McAlister really was.

However fanciful an account this may be, Scoop got to screen first and so gets to set the agenda. And that agenda paints McAlister as a misunderstood prophet whose straight-talking chutzpah is the only reason that on November 16, 2019, Newsnight didn’t air yet another debate on the Brexit fallout. Hooray for her. Now, let’s wait until the Maitlis-approved version of events to see who else agrees.

Scoop is streaming now on Netflix.

The post Netflix’s Scoop Review: Self-Satisfied Girlboss Ego Trip appeared first on Den of Geek.

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