Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell recreate a royal media disaster in Prince Andrew drama 'Scoop'

Posted 4/1/24

British royalty and the media can be an explosive mix, as recent weeks of speculation over the health of Kate, Princess of Wales, have shown. More evidence is provided by “Scoop,” a …

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Gillian Anderson and Rufus Sewell recreate a royal media disaster in Prince Andrew drama 'Scoop'

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LONDON (AP) — As the past few weeks have shown, British royalty and the media can be an explosive mix.

The absence of the Princess of Wales after abdominal surgery in January sparked uncontrolled online speculation that was first heightened by the release of a manipulated photo, then eased by a video statement from Kate disclosing that she is being treated for cancer.

It’s a reminder that when palace privacy meets public curiosity and the public interest, things can get messy.

For more evidence, watch “Scoop,” a behind-the-scenes Netflix drama about a disastrous interview Prince Andrew gave in 2019 in response to allegations of sexual misconduct. Released on Friday (April 5), it stars Rufus Sewell as Andrew and Gillian Anderson as journalist Emily Maitlis, who grilled the prince for the BBC’s “Newsnight” program.

The feature-length drama is a return to royal themes for “The X-Files” and “Sex Education” star Anderson, who played a leading role in series four of “The Crown,” albeit as Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, not as a member of the House of Windsor. Anderson says the “complex” relationship between royalty and media needs reassessment.

“Whether that’s (Prince) Harry and his cases against the tabloids and all of the truths around that that have come to the fore, or other aspects that are becoming more public knowledge, it probably needs a proper rethink,” Anderson told The Associated Press.

Prince Andrew agreed to be interviewed to address reports about his friendship with financier Jeffrey Epstein – found dead in a New York prison in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges — and allegations by a woman that she’d had sex with Andrew when she was 17 and being trafficked by Epstein.

“Scoop” is based on a book by Sam McAlister, the tenacious producer who secured the interview. As played by Billie Piper, she promises the palace: “An hour of television can change everything.”

That proved grimly true for Andrew.

Under Maitlis’ gentle but determined probing, the prince denied all allegations, failed to show empathy for the exploited young women and said Epstein had “conducted himself in a manner unbecoming,” which struck many viewers as an understatement.

He claimed he couldn’t have been at a nightclub with his accuser on an alleged date because he was at a suburban Pizza Express restaurant with his daughter Princess Beatrice. He couldn’t have been sweating on the dancefloor because an “overdose of adrenaline’’ during his time as a helicopter pilot in the 1982 Falklands War had left him unable to perspire.

McAlister recalled the “extraordinary” experience of being in the room as the interview was recorded inside Buckingham Palace.

“As a journalist, and an ex-lawyer, I knew profoundly that he was doing something that would change the course of his life and the course of life of everyone in the royal family,” she said at the show's London premiere.

Andrew initially thought the interview had been a great success, even giving Maitlis a tour of Buckingham Palace after it was recorded.

But he “stepped back” from public duties days after it was broadcast, and has not returned. In 2022 he reached an out-of-court settlement with his accuser, Virginia Giuffre, paying her an unspecified sum without admitting guilt.

Sewell, who spent up to four hours a day being transformed into the prince with makeup and prosthetics, said he tried to find “all of the contradictions” in Andrew. He saw a man whose self-image was forged through a lifetime of deference from those around him, and who played up to his tabloid image as a “naughty scamp” – “Randy Andy” in his bachelor youth, “Air Miles Andy” in his role as a British trade emissary.

Sewell said he felt Andrew’s self-image was “dependent on the other party acquiescing to the idea that he is the prince.”

“In order to maintain the idea of himself, he needs someone to play along,” said the British actor, recently seen as a mischief-making ambassadorial spouse in “The Diplomat” on Netflix.

“And the interview is the process by which this fish finds himself out of his bowl, gulping for air — because Emily Maitlis does not even need to be rude or aggressive, she just needs to not agree to her side of that contract. And suddenly he is a creature that cannot get the oxygen."

The show's recreation of the infamous interview is remarkably tense, even for viewers who have seen the real thing.

“We prepared completely separately and, and there was no rehearsal,” Anderson said. “So when we came together to shoot the interview, it was on our first day of work together and we started the day sitting across from each other in those chairs and the cameras rolled. And so there was tension in and of itself.”

“Scoop” is the first of two TV dramas based on the interview. Amazon’s rival miniseries “A Very Royal Scandal” is due later this year, with Michael Sheen as Andrew and Ruth Wilson as Maitlis.

Anderson is proud that “Scoop” is a story with “four strong female leads in the ensemble.” The cast also includes Keeley Hawes as Andrew’s private secretary Amanda Thirsk and Romola Garai as “Newsnight” boss Esme Wren.

As for what the palace can learn from it, she said: “If this tells us anything, it would be that the royal family should never do an interview at all.”

“But actually,” she added, “I think what is amazing and what stands out is the importance of independent journalism, to hold authority to account and to at least attempt to get some semblance of the truth.”

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