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Netflix's Scoop offers a new perspective on the Newsnight saga – and bucks TV's worst trend

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RRight now, television is captivated by five little words: “Based on a True Story.” Events that barely had time to take place are immediately seized upon by production companies and turned into shows that are forgotten almost as quickly. Scammers, lawsuits, celebrity scandals: they're all fodder for the content mill (and a good excuse for beautiful actors to experiment with dodgy prosthetics). We had a drama based on the Wagatha Christie trial, Kenneth Branagh in the terrible Boris Johnson cosplay for Michael Winterbottom's Sky series This England and a whole series of shows about start-ups that went very, very wrong (see Apple's We crashed and FX's The dropout). And that's just a tiny, tiny cross section.

It's all gotten so out of control that every time something remotely newsworthy happens, everyone on social media makes the same joke: that ITV is about to cast Sheridan Smith in a ripped-from-the-headlines three-part drama (aptly so). : It's a gag that was pretty compelling the first three times, but now it feels just a little off, so forgive me for rolling my eyes when Netflix commissioned a one-off drama scoopwhich depicts the events that led to Emily Maitlis' infamous novel News evening Showdown with Prince Andrew in November 2019. It is based on the memoirs of Sam McAlister News evening Booker, who secured that fateful interview, played by Billie Piper, alongside Gillian Anderson as Maitlis and Rufus Sewell as the Prince. And in the end, it disproved my prejudices and showed that true story dramas, when done well, can bring nuance and new perspectives.

At first I asked myself: Do we really need a TV reconstruction of… a TV interview? Wouldn’t it be a little “inside baseball”? Haven't all sorts of memes been created about Woking Pizza Express? It was said that Amazon then announced its own drama A very royal scandal, with Michael Sheen and Ruth Wilson in the palace's hot seats only seemed to further prove the industry's mania for true intellectual property (and lack of fresh ideas). This competing project, a three-part series, is produced by Maitlis and will therefore inevitably focus on her personal experiences.

But once you consider the flashy wigs, the fake cheeks (apparently Sewell spent about four hours in the makeup chair transforming into Andrew), and the fact that several years later…CrownAnderson's voice still has an eerie hint of Thatcher's, scoop is actually much greater than the sum of its parts. The film bucks this trend of turning current events into boring streaming material by spelling out an incident we think we know inside out: it takes away much of the sensationalism and sensationalism of a story thanks to all the jokes about it the giggles are missing The The Pizza Express branch and the Prince's miraculous inability to sweat has become something of a punchline.

In that infamous interview, Andrew was asked about his friendship with Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier and convicted sex offender, as well as allegations that he sexually assaulted Virginia Guiffre three times when she was 17 (the prince has always denied this). Allegations were made and the case was settled out of court in 2022). From the beginning, scoop Gestures towards Epstein's victims. We see paparazzi photos of young girls leaving his New York home, which serve as a reminder of the human cost and, as they reappear throughout the film, of the urgency behind McAlister's quest for exclusivity.

In the feverish aftermath of News evening In interviews, particularly in the online scramble for the hottest take or joke about Andrew's bizarre remarks, victims often seemed to become an afterthought. It was as if we had all collectively conveniently forgotten that this was a story about alleged abuse and not about “just weekend shooting” and adrenaline excesses. scoop helps to get this under control again. Maybe it helps that a few years have passed since the interview, so the writer and producers were able to push through the hysteria and see things in a different, clearer light.

Billie Piper plays Newsnight producer Sam McAlister (Peter Mountain/Netflix)

And although Sewell's Andrew gets a lot of screen time (did we really need that shot of him in the bathtub?), the story has been reframed to focus on the women who made the interview possible. We see the sacrifices McAlister must make in the service of a job that exhausts and excites her, and there are also gestures toward the inscrutable Maitlis' motivations: screenwriter Peter Moffat imagines that she failed because of Bill Clinton about his affair with Monica Lewinsky during a previous interview may have led the host to pressure Andrew for answers. Keeley Hawes is particularly strong in the tricky role of Amanda Thirsk, the prince's private secretary who became McAlister's contact at the palace. In other hands, it might have been easy to play off the “What was she thinking?” question. Consider her or present her as a caricatured, affected courtier. But instead, Hawes plays her as someone who may have invested too much in her job and is no longer aware of reality.

Of course, some clichés of the based-on-a-true-story industrial complex are still present and accurate. Personally, I could have done without the self-congratulation scene towards the end News evening The editor, played by Romola Garai, rallies the troops to give a speech about how the program “tells stories that need to be told,” as Anderson and Piper nod in agreement. I have yet to work in or hear from a newsroom where such a Hollywood Scene moment actually happens (we're all too busy refreshing Twitter and thinking about what to have for lunch).

But overall, it's refreshing to be reminded that a true story drama doesn't necessarily have to be about shallow reenactments and diminishing returns – it can make us forget the stories we think we know. question again. And when Prince Andrew appears to show up at royal events despite his apparent retreat from public life, this interrogation feels particularly important. Now the pressure will be on for Amazon's drama to go one better: Sheen and Wilson, the ball is in your court.