Seven novels or short stories written by famous British author Evelyn Waugh ended up making the transition from page to screen. The novel "Scoop" made the move twice – once as an early-70s BBC television series and again in 1987 as a Masterpiece Theatre production.
The latter has made its way to DVD thanks to Granada International and BFS Video, and captures both the novel's brilliant and somewhat prescient satire of the mass media and its lack of character exploration.
William Boot (Michael Maloney) is a perfectly mediocre outdoors writer, filing a weekly column filled with clichéd hyperbole about the beauty of wildlife. But after being mistaken for another more experienced journalist, he is sent to the east African war zone of Ishmaelia, where he stumbles and bumbles his way into the story of a lifetime, all the while being hustled by a quasi-Teutonic beauty (Renée Soutendijk) and pressured by an antsy editor (Denholm Elliott) thousands of miles away.
Where Scoop succeeds is in its depiction of the herd instinct of the media. When Boot arrives in Ishmaelia, he finds the press corps sitting around in the hotel, waiting for the country's Minister of Information to tell it what and when it can report. When a "vital" bit of information gets out in the public, the entire corps moves at once to follow the lead, without thought of confirming anything. Some would argue that, in light of the way that the Pentagon controlled the flow of information coming out of Iraq in the past year, the movie has incredible foresight.
Maloney is also wonderful as the vanilla Boot. His is a thankless task, as he remains in various states of cluelessness throughout the film. Yet despite his lack of ability, ambition or social grace, he still gets the audience's backing as a sort of unwilling hero.
Unfortunately, at no point do we ever see why or how Boot is so plain. The characters of Scoop are, at best, two-dimensional. Why is Soutendijk's Kaetchen so manipulative? Why does Boot fall for her? How about Boot's colleagues – when did they lose their journalistic ethics? There are a lot of questions left unanswered about character motivations.