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the royal family and the BBC

the royal family and the BBC


New Netflix drama about Prince Andrew's Newsnight interview won't add anything to the story – but we can rejoice in our ambivalence about both institutions

February 13, 2024 1:51 p.m.(Update 2:24 p.m.)

We've all heard about true crime, but what about real news? A new genre of television seems to have emerged recently, in which we hear retellings of stories, dramatized and duly reproduced, often shortly after hearing the story itself.

There was the Wagatha Christie case, which was settled in 2022 and revived in subsequent years as a courtroom drama, play and documentary on Channel 4; The interviewthe 2023 piece about Martin Bashir's 1995 interview with Princess Diana in which she revealed details of her tumultuous marriage to Charles; This England, the Sky 2022 drama about the inner workings of government during Covid, starring Kenneth Branagh as Boris Johnson; And Brexit: the uncivil wara 2019 Channel 4 drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Dominic Cummings.

And now there is the story of Prince Andrew and Jeffrey Epstein, or rather the story of the outcome of this story, when the prince gave a fateful interview to Newsnights Emily Maitlis in 2019, which led to her being removed from her royal duties.

It's this interview, not the whole sordid affair of Andrew and Epstein's relationship or the lawsuit filed against him by Epstein's main accuser, Virginia Giuffre, that forms the basis of the upcoming Netflix film. Scoopwhose trailer has just been released.

It stars Gillian Anderson as the imperturbable Maitlis, Billie Piper as NewsnightProducer Sam McAlister and Rufus Sewell as Andrew, and will be released on April 5. Another show, A very royal scandalproduced by Prime Video, will tell the same story, with Michael Sheen (who also played Coleen Rooney's lawyer, David Sherborne, in Vardy versus Rooney: courtroom drama).

Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis in Scoop (Photo: Netflix)

It's fair to say that cynicism about this would be justified. This seems like an unnecessary duplication of a recent and widely reported event: an interview broadcast five years ago to 1.7 million viewers and described as nuclear explosion-level bad.

It sent shock waves through the press and public conversations for weeks, as the prince used Pizza Express as an alibi for accusations of sexual abuse, declared that he was physically incapable of sweating, and squirmed through a series of unflinching questions that revealed his lack of individual integrity. and, in doing so, posed the greatest threat to the credibility of the monarchy in decades.

Its impact speaks for itself; its shocking qualities can surely only be alleviated through dramatization. Andrew actually sat in that chair and said he didn't regret his friendship with Epstein, that he stayed in his house and was still in contact with Epstein's main accomplice, Ghislaine Maxwell: five years later, an actor's interpretation will not change much. light on the situation.

Yet the drama is also likely to be a success because it exploits the British public's two most perverse and pervasive obsessions: the royal family and the BBC. Consider this film your behind-the-scenes pass to Buckingham Palace and the BBC, as the two institutions clash over the story of a lifetime, reads a promotional article on HillNetflix companion site.

These two institutions have already clashed in this Bashir interview, which is now widely discredited as manipulative and dishonest, but which nevertheless had a considerable impact on the evolution of public opinion of both parties. Although Prince Andrew's story, about his association with one of the most dangerous and prolific child molesters in recent history, is altogether more serious than Charles and Diana's divorce or departure of Harry and Meghan's family, themselves discussed in an influential television interview but with a different tenor, led by Oprah Winfrey, has acquired a similar quality because it is told in the same way.

Britain thrives on these sensationalist scandals, which portray the royal family as both important and pathetic, ambitious and shameful. The divide they create allows people to align themselves with one point of view or another, republican or monarchist, thus creating a stronger sense of national identity; many people simultaneously harbor some degree of ambivalence.

Any media that reflects divide, ambivalence, or both will still be relevant even if it does not itself take sides. Netflix Drama The crown is a great example of this. Likewise, recent years of BBC-related crisis over presenter pay, TV licensing and prejudice have created an ideal environment for people to defend and attack the broadcaster in equal measure.

So while the accusations against Prince Andrew are monumentally serious and the Maitliss interview was undoubtedly one of the most important national news stories of the 2010s, the rehashing of this story doesn't seem primarily concerned with its seriousness, surely in part because, legally, the series cannot be seen as condemning an unindicted person. We don't take sides. We don't say: Oh, isn't he great, or: Oh, isn't he wicked. It's up to the viewer to draw their own conclusions, said Sam McAlister, the book's producer whose Scoop is based.

This suits us just fine: it takes us a few steps away from the original, shocking images and allows us to delve into the equivocation that fuels an ongoing national obsession with an institution that both defines and shames us.




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