Based on TV producer Sam McAlister’s book, Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews, Netflix’s new film Scoop focuses specifically on the 2019 Newsnight interview of Prince Andrew, which turned into one of the most spectacular implosions of a public figure in recent memory. Adapted by Peter Moffat and Geoff Bussetil, and directed by Philip Martin, Scoop has the look of a prestige British TV drama, which is a specific aesthetic that suits the film’s subject well. This is, after all, a dramatic recreation of a television interview, and Scoop looks like it.


The film centers on Sam McAlister (Billie Piper), a producer and booker for the BBC’s news program, Newsnight. Sam, who has bleached blonde hair, a conspicuous Chanel jacket, and wears animal print boots, clashes with her stuffy BBC colleagues, who poo-poo her efforts to use celebrities to talk about important issues, such as inviting Lupita Nyong’o on discuss colorism. This is the BBC! This isn’t the Daily Mail! We’re going to have an MP no one’s heard of talk about Brexit again! The signifiers of Sam being from a mid-to-lower class are all there, but also, her boots are rad and implying that cool boots are low classy is a surefire way to alienate people. I suppose that’s the point, though. We’re supposed to root for Sam because she’s One Of Us, with her cool boots and pop culture awareness.


Sam is frustrated and on the brink of either quitting or getting fired, but she’s also working a contact at Buckingham Palace: Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), Prince Andrew’s private secretary. Sam has an idea of setting up an interview, especially as she pieces together years of headlines connecting the prince to his unsavory American financier friend, Jeffrey Epstein. Her idea is to use Prince Andrew’s “Pitch@Palace” initiative to ask about Epstein, but the higher-ups at the BBC shoot her down (again). But then, Epstein’s New York home is raided by the FBI. Later, Epstein is found dead in jail. Suddenly, the story has new legs, and Prince Andrew is once again in the spotlight for his association with a convicted sex offender.

Scoop is most effective in the back half, when Sam teams up with producer Esme Wren (Romola Garai) and presenter Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) to plan and execute an exclusive interview with Prince Andrew. It’s an extraordinary “show your work” moment, and the recreation of the interview itself is stellar. What can be added to real life? Well, besides Rufus Sewell’s brutally funny portrayal of Andrew, which is best described as “never getting an OBE now”, it’s the contrast between the teams from the palace and the BBC. As Andrew flounders through answers involving pizza and sweat glands, Sam and the BBC folks look increasingly horrified, while Thirsk and the palace people look quite satisfied with Andrew’s bumbling. 


Scoop succeeds in making The Palace, as an institution, look ridiculous. The only people with any self-awareness are Princess Beatrice (Charity Wakefield), who understands her father desperately needs an image makeover, if not the pitfalls of letting him speak at all, and Jason Stein (Alex Waldmann), a public relations advisor who quits over Thirsk and Andrew’s decision to allow the BBC to ask any question. Stein wanted to revive Andrew’s reputation through a series of casual, off-the-record meetings with members of the press, and a no holds barred interview with Emily Maitlis is decidedly not THAT.

Throughout the interview, Thirsk and her palace cohort look cautiously optimistic that things are going well, despite the prince’s increasingly bizarre, bumbling replies. Sam and the BBC people, however, realize how off the rails Andrew is going, and react to handling the memory cards containing the interview like they’ve been given the Pentagon Papers. They understand how sensational the interview is, which just makes you wonder how insular and out of touch people who work at the palace really are. At one point, Thirsk refers to “we” as if she, herself, is part of the royal family, but that seems to be the attitude of everyone working in close proximity to royal power. (Not so much the attitude of the cleaners responsible for sorting and staging Prince Andrew’s extensive collection of teddy bears. They seem aware of the car crash unfolding before them.)


Scoop also has some ideas about legacy media versus new media, as represented by Sam and her BBC cohort. As much as they sh-t on Sam for being tabloid trashy, they’re excited by the virality of the interview online, though in one pointed exchange, another editor, a Black man named Freddy (Jordan Kouamé), points out that he could not swan into work late like Sam does, implying she gets away with it because she’s white and blonde. 

Scoop tries to show all the angles of a newsroom, the competing agendas and clashing personalities, but it’s weakest on this point. It just doesn’t have anything interesting, let alone meaningful, to say about these clashes between race, gender, and class in the newsroom. Pointing something out is not the same thing as addressing it, and Scoop settles for pointing. But once it settles into the second half and the interview proper, Scoop takes off. As a depiction of how a public persona can be destroyed, as an example of the failure of a musty institution to understand and meet the moment, as an example of extraordinary work done under extraordinary pressure, Scoop is an entertaining examination of one of the most incredible public meltdowns in recent memory.


Scoop is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.