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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Reel Rundown: The scoop behind the ‘Scoop’

An interviewer, left, speaks with Billie Piper, Gillian Anderson and Sam McAlister during a New York ccreening of Netflix film Scoop at NeueHouse Madison Square on April 3 in New York City.  (Getty Images for Netflix)
By Dan Webster For The Spokesman-Review

When it comes to movies based on real-life events, it’s clear that authenticity typically counts less than a good storyline.

Check that. Authenticity is important. It’s reality that so often gets, um, adjusted. The pertinent question, then, is could what takes place on screen actually have happened?

In the matter of the Netflix movie “Scoop,” there’s no doubt that what the movie portrays actually took place. As directed by Philip Martin, “Scoop” tells the story of how the BBC scored its infamous November 2019 interview with Britain’s Prince Andrew (played by a virtually unrecognizable Rufus Sewell).

At the time, Andrew was in the spotlight because of his past association with the convicted American sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein. Anxious to repair his reputation, which had plummeted even lower since Epstein’s death in prison just three months before, Andrew agreed to the interview.

Martin’s movie focuses on Sam McAlister (Billie Piper) whose job is to book people for the BBC program “Newsnight.” Adapted from McAlister’s own book, “Scoops: The BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews,” the movie details McAlister’s struggles at work to be taken seriously. The BBC has a social hierarchy, you see, and she hails from a working-class background.

McAlister doesn’t help her cause any by being difficult (meaning that she stands up for herself), and she busies herself seeking out guests for the show that some of her colleagues consider frivolous. The BBC, she is told, is above covering stories that appeal more to a tabloid audience – even in an era when the network is struggling for viewers and is facing staff cutbacks.

McAlister, though, recognizes early on the difficult position that the prince is in. And while those same critical colleagues doubt that he would ever agree to be interviewed, McAlister works patiently through Andrew’s private secretary, Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes). And, ultimately, she succeeds.

What happens next is well documented. An overconfident Andrew gets grilled by “Newsnight” anchor Emily Maitlis (Gillian Anderson). And even though he is initially pleased with the results, his dismal performance almost immediately is lampooned on social media. Four days later, he backs away – more likely is pushed – from his royal duties.

Even though “Scoop” announces at the very beginning that it “is based on real events,” it admits that “certain elements have been fictionalized for dramatic purposes.” Yet much of the film adheres to those events just as they occurred (the interview comes word-for-word from the actual encounter, which can be accessed on YouTube).

Yes, time elements are fudged. McAlister, for example, lobbied Thirsk for more than a year, not several weeks, to get the interview. Also, did McAlister tell the Prince that he’s known as “Randy Andy”? No. Did he yell “Trousers!” at Maitlis? Again, no. Did he watch the interview from a bathtub. Doubtful.

Did he have an extensive teddy bear collection, and was he obsessive about how it was arranged? That, strangely enough, is true.

In the end, however many liberties that “Scoop” takes with the truth, the basic facts hold up: An arrogant royal willingly consorted with a man who preyed on underage women, something he very likely did himself, and got taken down by a news organization.

The sweet irony is that a woman was the one who arranged his fall.