The True Story Behind the Netflix Film About Prince Andrew’s Infamous BBC Interview

In the moments after Prince Andrew sat down with BBC Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis in 2019 to rationalize the nature of his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, the Duke of York told friends the interview went really well.

The —full of bizarre explanations and quotable one-liners—went on to cause a global storm, and led to the Prince stepping back from royal duties just days later. In its aftermath, the late Queen’s was stripped of his military titles and royal patronages, and broadly faded away from the public eye.

Now Scoop, a new film from director Philip Martin aims to examine the infamous interview through the lens of the three women who made it possible. The newsroom drama—which is streaming on Netflix starting today (April 5)— is based on the book Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews, by former BBC guest booker Sam McAlister, whose sometimes thankless job led her to the exclusive of a lifetime. Alongside her is then-Newsnight editor Esme Wren, and host Maitlis whose poised approach serves as a masterclass in the art of the broadcast interview.

“I heard that Andrew thought the interview had gone well, and then obviously it didn’t. That seemed very interesting territory for a drama to exist in,” Martin tells TIME. “I read Sam’s book, and that just seemed such a great way into the story, to look at it through the lens of the women who put the interview together.”

Martin, who also directed episodes of the first two seasons of Netflix drama , said this was a new opportunity for him to invert the dynamic he was familiar with, by bringing an outsider in the person of McAlister through the gates of Buckingham Palace.

The film

Scoop begins in 2010, with British photojournalist Jae Donnelly (Connor Swindells) taking to the streets of New York City—camera gear in tow—hoping to capture a clear shot of Prince Andrew visiting Jeffrey Epstein at his Manhattan mansion. What ensues is a chase through Central Park that landed Donnelly the now-infamous shot of Andrew and Epstein walking together after Epstein’s in 2009 for soliciting prostitution from minors.

“If there wasn’t the picture of Epstein and Andrew in the park, the story would have probably gone away,” says Martin. In the film, as in life, the image sets in motion a series of events that will unfold over the next decade.

Nine years later, viewers are introduced to McAlister (Billie Piper), sunglasses-clad, with peroxide curls, and leopard print boots, arriving at BBC’s Central London headquarters. The BBC is facing its own challenges, with fresh layoffs across all shows. Editor Wren (Romola Garai) is trying to keep her team afloat by landing big stories in a competitive media landscape, as host and journalistic titan Maitlis (Gillian Anderson) jokingly asks if they all still have jobs.

McCalister has a no-nonsense approach to her role and colleagues, trying to book high-powered-guests, or in her words “the people we can’t just call up.” It is this guiding principle that leads McCalister to convert a low stakes email about a business event Andrew is hosting, into the interview that changed his life forever .

When we meet Andrew (Rufus Sewell), the teddy-bear loving royal is struggling to escape the stain to his reputation from his involvement with Epstein, which has come to overshadow any of his royal duties in the public consciousness. While viewers know the film’s crux is a damning interview, its plot provides a roadmap and the personal motivations that led each figure there. “What drama can do, as distinct from a documentary, or the original interview, is that it can put you into the emotional headspace of the characters,” Martin says.

Depicting real life figures

Piper’s transformation into McAlister is uncanny. “My boyfriend couldn’t tell us apart,” McAlister tells TIME from her London home. “The meticulous detail that was put into the representation by the crew, but also by Billie herself, who generously spent a lot of time with me, and clearly worked hard to get my various intonations, my walk, everything about me.”

While McAlister was unknown to the British public, Maitlis and Andrew are instantly recognizable figures. With that in mind, Sewell used prosthetics to look like Andrew, but the key contours of his face were kept clear so his performance was not obstructed. Anderson took on Maitlis’ signature look with a blonde bob wig, contact lenses, and her distinct smokey-eyed makeup.

Martin says there was a fine line between delivering on the aesthetics of well-known figures, without falling victim to parody. “If it’s pure impersonation, then it just loses the spark of drama and the spark of realism,” he says.

The accusations against Prince Andrew

In 2015, Virginia Giuffre filed court papers alleging that Epstein and his girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell, arranged sexual encounters for her with wealthy businessmen and high profile figures, including Prince Andrew when she was 17 years old.

Then named Virginia Roberts, she alleged she was forced to have sex with Andrew in Epstein’s New York mansion, in London, and on Epstein’s private island in the US Virgin Islands in 2001. However, mentions of Andrew were struck from the record when a U.S. federal judge said it was “immaterial and impertinent to the central claim.”

In a sworn affidavit, Giuffre also alleged Maxwell worked as Epstein’s procuress—allegations that led to Maxwell making defamatory statements about Giuffre. Giuffre sued Maxwell for defamation that same year, but the case was settled and its records sealed in 2017, with Maxwell paying Giuffre millions.

In 2019, the documents from the 2015 lawsuit , and Giuffre’s accusations against Andrew came to light. While Andrew has denied all allegations made against him, and since settled the case, the scandal continues to follow him.

Epstein was rearrested on multiple charges in July 2019, and in his New York City jail cell a month later. At the time, Prince Andrew released saying he regrets his “ill-judged association” with Epstein, adding that “his suicide has left many unanswered questions, particularly for his victims, and I deeply sympathise with everyone who has been affected and wants some form of closure.”

How Sam McAlister landed the interview

McAlister’s success as a television booker lies in her persistence and her ability to keep an eye on the bigger picture. In the film, she nurtures a relationship with Amanda Thirsk—Andrew’s flustered private secretary—who originally reached out to the BBC to arrange for a “puff piece” about Andrew’s charitable work. After a year of back and forth, when Andrew decided to speak publicly about Epstein, Thirsk already had a rapport with McAlister.

But what is it about the real McAlister that led her to success? “I’m a bit of a maverick, she says. “I don’t do deference. I don’t play by the rules. I don’t mean I play without integrity, but I’m not super interested in structures and hierarchies.“

McAlister says she was motivated by what was best for the program, and the country, and her tenacity set her apart from others who missed out on the story. She also says her socially mobile background, from growing up in public housing to becoming “resolutely” middle class, taught her to mix in different circles and learn Britain’s unspoken social cues. “My mum taught me to mix with Princes and paupers—she didn’t mean it literally, but it ended up being that way.”

What did Prince Andrew say in the BBC Newsnight interview?