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‘Scoop’ digs into the BBC’s Prince Andrew interview, but it only goes so deep

<i>Netflix via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Gillian Anderson plays BBC journalist Emily Maitlis in
Netflix via CNN Newsource
Gillian Anderson plays BBC journalist Emily Maitlis in "Scoop."

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — “Scoop” juggles so many timely balls it’s a bit of a shame the film doesn’t accomplish that task with more dexterity. Part of that has to do with its somewhat limited origins, based as it is on a memoir by a BBC booker, but the underlying issues surrounding traditional journalism competing with tabloids and how the press covers the UK’s Royal family lift the net result into the marginal-win column.

The aforementioned booker is Sam McAlister – played in this Netflix movie by Billie Piper – who wrote the book “Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC’s Most Shocking Interview.” That title references the 2019 sit-down with Prince Andrew (a nearly unrecognizable Rufus Sewell here), who finally broke his silence about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein after Epstein’s arrest for sex trafficking minors and subsequent suicide.

The context of how that interview came together should theoretically make for juicy viewing, especially with a narrative that’s privy to both the preparations within the Palace – where Andrew’s public-relations liaison Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes) must sweat out the details – and the BBC, which, after a round of job cuts, might be hungrier to gain the attention that comes with a big “get.”

To reach that point, McAlister must overcome internal skepticism, including colleagues who see her as more in tune with the tabloids than her staid employer. She must also win over the palace, where Prince Andrew is at first counseled to engage in off-the-record meetings with “friendly journalists” in order to humanize him.

As McAlister tells Thirsk during the courtship period before the story blows up again, the Epstein association, and Prince Andrew’s reluctance to address it, is “a problem that won’t go away.” While Thirsk intuitively knows this, convincing the client is another matter.

Conducing the interview falls to correspondent Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson), whose own preparation almost gives this a “Rocky” movie feel, with the combatants training for the big showdown before stepping into the ring.

As directed by Philip Martin (a veteran of this territory, having worked on “The Crown”) from Peter Moffat and Geoff Bussetil’s screenplay, “Scoop” stumbles about before reaching that climactic sequence, in part because the unseen legwork of journalism simply isn’t as dramatic as the ultimate payoff. Fortunately, the final sequence hums with Prince Andrew’s awkward responses – subsequently dubbed a “PR nightmare” – and Maitlis’ calmly efficient line of questioning, which owes a debt to “Frost/Nixon” without its singular “Aha!” moment.

Even as a modest letdown “Scoop” is nevertheless worth watching for that climactic sequence, as well as what it has to say about the current state of media as the circle-the-wagons mentality surrounding the Royals, which takes on greater significance given the recent coverage of Kate Middleton before the revelation of her cancer diagnosis.

Of course, the film might earn greater praise from “friendly” critics, but that qualified endorsement is about the best this one can do.

“Scoop” premieres April 5 on Netflix.

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