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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Scoop' review: Immorality is not hidden in plain interview

Billie Piper sitting in an office chair and holding a phone

A royal mess, members of the press, trousers and a red dress. Scoop, a biographical drama directed by Philip Martin, has all these elements as it takes on the disgraced prince Andrew of the British royal family. Adapted by screenwriters Peter Moffat and Geoff Bussetil from Sam McAlister's nonfiction book 'Scoops', it depicts the story of the behind-the-scenes drama that went into producing a 2019 interview between Andrew (Rufus Sewell) and Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson), the host of 'Newsnight', after the former came under scrutiny for allegations of sexual abuse as well as his connections to convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein (Colin Wells) and sex trafficker Ghislaine Maxwell. Billie Piper co-stars as McAlister who was a producer on Newsnight and said interview, while Keeley Hawes portrays Andrew's publicist Amanda Thirsk.

Nowadays, you typically get these kinds of mid-level stories in the form of a miniseries spanning anywhere from three to six episodes, so since a viewer's brain is already trained to expect that, the very first hurdle that Scoop and its filmmakers have is to overcome those expectations. In that regard, Martin and co. do a perfectly adequate job as there's significant energy and prowess on display at times, mainly when it comes to Kirstin Chalmers' hair and makeup designs that transform Sewell and Anderson especially in ways that allow the actors to disappear. The director and DoP Nanu Segal then trust that transformation to hold closeups, something that is crucial because this is ultimately an honest look at a callous, privileged man who has nowhere to hide in that frame.

One thing that you definitely wouldn't know from the film's marketing is that Piper's Sam is the real main character—Emily is more or less a cog in the wheel while Andrew is intentionally kept at arm's length—which also has its strengths and weaknesses. One of those weaknesses is the limited perspective on the events, which then affects characterisations and makes this moment of public reckoning feel less substantial than it could be. Another is how the film plays out structurally since it is seemingly building towards this showdown, which the writers and characters at one point describe as a shootout in a western. That is the sort of line that normally lays out the game plan and indicates a dramatic turning point. Instead, the build-up and how the recreation of this interview fits into the overall framework is somewhat underwhelming.

What is fortunate in those scenes, however, is that the actors are able to elevate the material. That includes Piper whose body language and vigour really pops on the screen as her character and the film try to drive home simple but fairly effective themes about the importance of quality journalism and how you hold accountable even the biggest of institutions, especially royals whose power comes from historical oppression and indecency. Anderson and Sewell also knock it out of the park in their outings, even if they don't quite get the proper ammunition for the verbal shootout, which would have offered them a thrilling showcase, though that might've required some narrative licence considering the source material (that I'm not familiar with, for the record).

But what's certain is that you absolutely could do much worse than have great actors perform consequential drama with some decent craftsmanship backing it. For once, you also don't have to mutter under your breath that ''this could've just been a movie''; it actually is one. Hooray.

Smileys: Makeup, Billie Piper

Frowneys: Structure

Bandrew-ed from schoolyards.


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