Truly, the world does not need another documentary about Ghislaine Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein. Who knows why the BBC waited this long to deliver one, when Sky produced a good programme last summer (Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein’s Shadow) and ITV broadcast a lacklustre version in January (Ghislaine, Prince Andrew and the Paedophile). But here was the three-part House of Maxwell (BBC Two), which had little new to say.
It did the usual thing of tracing Ghislaine’s problems back to her father, Robert, before getting onto the Epstein stuff in the final instalment. There was one new claim: that Robert used Epstein to hide his money offshore; that documentary evidence of this was found in the bedroom of his yacht following his disappearance in 1991; and that Ghislaine ordered crew members to shred the papers. In the grand scheme of things, though – set against Ghislaine and Epstein’s later crimes – this wasn’t thrilling, and there was nothing to back up the claim.
The programme-makers had obtained a stash of secret tape recordings – Maxwell bugged his own home in order to eavesdrop on his wife and children (an antiques dealer bought a lamp in a sale of contents from the Maxwell home, and found two tiny microphones concealed in it) and his offices. Much was made of these workplace recordings, in which panicked Mirror executives braced for the collapse of Maxwell’s business empire. “It’s going to blow up, and head in the sand isn’t going to help.” “There’s going to be the most God almighty public scandal.” They sounded like lines from a political thriller. But if we weren’t to be told who these people were, or precisely what they knew of Maxwell’s fraud, what good were these?
We gained a few insights into Robert’s character, from his secretary – who once overheard father and daughter meowing to one another on the phone – to Eve Pollard, former editor of the Sunday Mirror, who said of the tycoon’s relationship with his children: “He loved them but it was the sort of love that can grab you by the throat as well as by the heart, and you never knew which way it would go.”
On Ghislaine and Epstein, though, there was nothing we hadn’t heard before. Victims describing their degrading ordeals. Former friends telling us that Ghislaine used to be such a vivacious, clever, good-time gal. She is due to be sentenced in June; let that be the last we hear of her.