Why Prince Andrew Drama Scoop Won’t End Britain’s Royalist Bootlickery

This retelling of Prince Andrew's cringe-inducing Newsnight appearance overestimates its importance, says JR Moores

Historical dramas are now concerned with such recent circumstances that Matthew Macfadyen is currently shadowing Ben Shephard in preparation for the lead role in an adaptation of yesterday’s edition of Tipping Point. Unfortunately this event’s significance is yet to become properly apparent.

The same issue applies to Scoop, Netflix’s new movie based on Prince Andrew’s car crash Newsnight interview in 2019. A week might be a long time in politics. Five years fly by when it concerns a vampiric family’s stranglehold over its host nation’s wealth and power.

Scoop rests on the premise that Andrew’s interview had seismic consequences. The interview was important for the reputation of Emily Maitlis, played here by Gillian Anderson. The actor didn’t meet the presenter she’s portraying and seems to be doing an impersonation of the late Haydn Gwynne from Drop The Dead Donkey. Maitlis didn’t convene with Anderson because she has her own rival Amazon biopic in the works, as the executive producer of A Very Royal Scandal. Netflix’s version is based on the recollections of former Newsnight booker Sam McAlister. She’s played by Billie Piper, whose plucky talent has successively withstood the trappings of pop stardom, Doctor Who sidekick status and an ill-fated marriage to the idiot cousin of Roderick Spode from the Wodehouse novels.

Needless to say, McAlister is the hero of Peter Moffat’s screenplay. Disillusioned with booking the ever-willing Nigel Farage, this plain-speaking single mother has to persuade her cynical colleagues that access is a possibility and negotiate with the palace to secure it. First, she wins the trust of Andrew’s long-suffering secretary, Amanda Thirsk (Keeley Hawes), who thinks her employer will charm his way through Maitlis’ grilling.

Carefully mimicked by Rufus Sewell, the prince is tetchy, pompous and unrepentant. He lambasts a young girl on his staff for arranging his cuddly toy collection in an objectionable manner. He snorts at the sight of Maitlis wearing, of all garments, trousers. He cracks an inappropriate joke about his friendship with Jimmy Savile. He is haunted by a childhood memory of “mummy” combing his hair before she exiled him to boarding school. He thinks the interview goes rather well. Then the phone starts bleeping.

There is barely any tension over Scoop‘s near two-hour running time because we already know that Andrew agreed to the interview as well as how badly it went. Technically speaking, it wasn’t even a scoop. It was an interview in which an entitled narcissist made feeble excuses for actions that were already known. “An hour of television can change everything,” runs Moffat’s script. If Mr Bates Vs. The Post Office triggered British people’s sense of justice (and retriggered it for those who’d followed the original reporting on the scandal), Scoop will have as little bearing on the public’s steadfast bootlickery as the original Newsnight broadcast.

The short-term impact saw Andrew stripped of certain titles. The same superficially benign queen who oversaw the damage limitation scheme also helped fund her son’s £12million settlement to Virginia Giuffre, who was sex trafficked by Andrew’s dear friends Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. Nowadays, Andrew can still be seen striding around in some sort of official capacity, with all the charm of Mr. Toad. It’s not as if he’s disappeared from public view, been frogmarched to the Jobcentre in Woking or, better still, extradited.

Like every other scandal weathered by the Windsors, this hasn’t been the death knell for the royals that was hoped for by my anti-monarchist brethren. The long term, not addressed in this drama, sees Andrew shrugging his shoulders as indifferently as the famous GIF of Alan Partridge. The even longer term is hundreds more years of his family’s elitist racket, if you’ll forgive the pessimism. They do attract tourism, to be fair, which is handy because nobody visits France or Ireland. Who can blame “The Firm”, as they’re known, for their indefatigable grasp? There cannot be many humans in this country who’d willingly surrender the income and privileges their family has accumulated, however humble or Croesusian, thus far in its lineage. It’s not as if they’re Danish.

The real problem is the royalists, of course, who are supportive of a power structure that gives an inch only when it is absolutely forced to and would, if able, gladly roll back the central premises of The Enlightenment. Equality? Do you see that family over there? The one with all the palaces, jewels, horses, sceptres, private schooling, medals, thrones, funny round golden things, armies of servants and piggy inbred-looking eyes? The one that receives £86.3million a year from its subjects despite private assets last valued at approximately “shit-tons”? They are better than you and they are better than everybody else in the entire commonwealth, if not the world. Why? Oh, they’re just born that way.

“No one does pomp and circumstance quite like the British,” people blather with misplaced pride whenever there’s a coronation, jubilee or extravagant funeral. The phrase “pomp and circumstance” was first written by William Shakespeare, in the context of Othello’s fondness for warfare. Later in the play [spoiler alert!], the main character kills his supposed “whore” of a wife and then, realising his mistake, himself. Not the most wholesome basis for a patriotic cliché, then. Newsflash! Other countries handle pomp (from which derives “pomposity”) and circumstance just fine. We don’t notice it because we’re not curious enough to have other nations’ ceremonies livestreamed and repeated for 144 hours straight on the BBC News channels.

As the expatriate Jonathan Meades told tQ recently, Britain “is crippled by hierarchy and almost proud of its unfairness.” Its fortunes are hampered further by its inhabitants’ almost comically misdirected sense of fury. Elizabeth II lobbied her governments for changes to the law, hoping to conceal her “embarrassing” private wealth from the public whose income she rinsed. Never mind that because two daytime television presenters skipped the line to shuffle past a box which may have contained a Very Important Corpse. Forget the tendency of the monarchy to say and wear racist things on the regular, because a member of the public put one poor cat in a wheelie bin. Andrew’s crimes are nothing compared to those of benefits cheats, refugees, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, woke university lecturers, lefty lawyers, musical irritants, a comedian who’s said the wrong thing and any nurse who joins a union.

Even scandals as juicy as this one, and dramatizations thereof, represent no watershed moment for the waning of the monarchy’s power and influence. Paradoxically, they can serve to strengthen its position in the long run. This pattern dates at least as far back as the eighteenth century when the French were advisably beheading their royals. In the English press, and in school curricula since, the precedent set here with Charles I was entirely swept under the carpet.

In the 1790s and beyond, on this side of the Channel, irreverent piss-taking and scrutiny of the royals and their flaws only served to humanise them, thus helping to secure the constitutional monarchy’s position for centuries to come. There were unintended consequences to the avalanche of satire, created by the caricaturist James Gillray among many others, which depicted George III as mad or moronic. The laughter was cathartic. The mockery aroused sympathy. Our current king has expressed great admiration for that ancestor in particular, which could suggest Charles’ bumbling nature is more calculated than is usually recognised.

Netflix was also behind The Crown, which on republican grounds I refuse to watch unless paid to review it. It doesn’t hold back, I am told. The trials and tribulations of the royal family are depicted, warts and all, and yet it does their reputation no damage. It feeds our soap operatic fascination with them. Some people find comfort in the notion that even the loftiest family in the land has its own fair share of pervy uncles, hopeless drunks, warring siblings and bigoted grandparents. We can identify with that, even if we don’t travel in golden coaches or own a “Stone of Destiny”. Actual soap operas are available.

In a few decades’ time, Andrew’s actions will be viewed as another eccentric little incident, as historic princes’ private lives often are, no matter how grim the reality for their victims, and nothing will have changed.

Prior to the airing of Scoop, McAlister delivered a TED talk on her success in booking Prince Andrew for Newsnight. “It’s a tale of hubris,” she concluded. “It’s a tale of misunderstanding. It’s a tale of persuasion, of course. But it’s a tale of royal delusion.” Laugh at the sweat-denying miscreant all you want. He’s not the only deluded one.

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