EXCLUSIVE: The story of how the BBC obtained the bombshell interview with Prince Andrew about his friendship with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is to become a film called Scoop, and Hugh Grant is one of the unconfirmed names on wish list to portray the disgraced royal, Deadline has learned.
Acclaimed Your Honor screenwriter Peter Moffat is writing the Scoop screenplay for The Lighthouse Film & Television, a production company launched two years ago by Hilary Salmon, Radford Neville and Nick Betts, along with British indie Voltage TV.
The news is likely to be greeted with little amusement from Andrew’s mother, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, and other members of the Royal Family. Buckingham Palace had hoped that, when it came to the errant royal, the less seen and heard the better.
Moffat and Salmon both confirmed the news today, telling Deadline that production will be set up quickly. They intend for shooting to begin in November. A director has not been assigned, nor has casting begun, though pitches have been made to selected agents. ”The reaction is always the same, ‘Oh, wow,’” Salmon said.
When pushed on casting, Salmon said “we have, of course, thoughts” but stressed “no one is attached,” and she wouldn’t comment on reports that Grant is in the mix.
Moffat explained that Scoop is “about how the BBC’s Newsnight team got the scoop, then the actual filming of it,” adding: “The other thing is, ‘Why did he agree to do it?’”
“How was it that he decided it was a good idea to do a great big long interview with Emily Maitlis on the BBC?,” Moffat asked incredulously, as he reflected on the Duke’s arrogance, ignorance and his charm, which he said “quite often covers up for the bad stuff, that’s what I think.”
Scoop will be based on Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC’s Most Shocking Interviews by Sam McAlister, a former Newsnight producer, which Salmon said she optioned almost immediately.
Packed with juicy, jaw-dropping detail, McAlister recounts how she, Maitlis, Esme Wren, former Newsnight editor, now with Channel 4, and Stewart Maclean, then deputy editor at Newsnight and now its editor, secured the interview with the Duke of York that aired in November 2019, two months after Epstein was found dead in his jail cell.
Salmon and Moffat have collaborated previously on Undercover, Silk, Criminal Justice and the current AMC show 61st Street, which stars Courtney B. Vance, Aunjanue Ellis and Tosin Cole. A second season has been completed.
Maitlis, then Newsnight’s lead presenter, forensically examined the Duke’s relationship with Epstein and his paramour Ghislaine Maxwell, who last year was convicted of child sex trafficking and other offenses and was sentenced this month. During the interview the Prince said that he regretted continuing to associate with Epstein after the financier pled guilty to soliciting underage sex in 2008. However, the fact that he offered no apology to Epstein’s victims caused uproar and global headlines.
“Life in a bubble,” Salmon said.
The story Moffat wants to tell is how “Sam and those two extraordinary women, Emily and Esme, made the interview happen under real stress and pressure because once it was agreed it happened in secret. Almost nobody inside the BBC could know about it for fear it would leak,” he said.
He added: “What Andrew was going to say was going to be extremely relevant in court later … a real responsibility, particularly to Epstein’s women victims. It was our one shot at looking at what Andrew had to say about Epstein. The seriousness with which Emily, Esme and Sam were taking it, of course, was right.”
Admitting that “this sounds a little crass,” Moffat observed that the behind-the-scenes activities involving the BBC team and members of the Duke’s household, his private secretary Amanda Thirsk and his daughter Princess Beatrice, who accompanied her father to a meeting with the BBC producers, “makes for very thrilling drama.”
Salmon noted how sections of McAlister’s book, which created a stir when it was serialized in the Daily Mail, and is published today, July 14, show how out of touch the Duke was. “All the opportunities that Emily gave him to say the right things to justify his friendship with Epstein, to say how sorry he was,” were wasted opportunities on the Duke’s part.
Moffat added that he has subsequently learned that once the cameras had stopped rolling, Maitlis had repeated her offer for him to go back in front of the cameras. ”Newsnight couldn’t have been fairer to him,” he said.
The Duke was oblivious to how his performance had gone down in the room. “He thought it had gone extremely well,” said Salmon.
The trouble with the Duke is that “everybody laughs at his jokes all of the time,” added Moffat, who went on to say: “I don’t think anybody ever interrupts him when he’s talking, and I think both of those things gives you a level of entitlement; he always feels in control of the time and space around him.”
McAlister cites, in her book, such an example. When the interview was being set up in a state room at Buckingham Palace, the Duke gave advice to the sound engineers about how they should wire everything up.
“He’s a 60-year-old guy who’s just used to all that stuff,” said Moffat.
Chunks of the Newsnight interview will be re-created for Scoop, but no real BBC footage will be used.
Moffat said that McAlister “has been a huge help.”
But asked if courtiers at Buckingham Palace had participated in Moffat’s research, Salmon responded carefully: “We’ve reached out to a wide variety of people who were involved behind the scenes of the interview, and we’re still in that process.”
Sam McAlister’s book Scoops is published by Oneworld Productions. McAlister is represented by Jen Thomas at United Agents who negotiated the film rights.
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