Ghislaine Maxwell: Epstein’s Shadow

Photograph: Sky
Rating 7.5
Streamers Now, Sky
Seasons 1
Episodes 3 x 50 mins

This three-part documentary unpicks the life of Ghislaine Maxwell in an attempt to explain – but definitely not condone – the actions she (allegedly) took which have landed her in a Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Centre, currently awaiting trial on charges of sex trafficking minors.

The story here starts after the filmmakers get the legal disclaimers out of the way, making sure everyone knows that as it stands, Maxwell is pleading not guilty, and that though they asked for her to take part in the film, she did not respond. Thankfully (and rather surprisingly), many of her ‘former-friends’ did respond, and are seen here to flesh out her story… whilst also looking as ashamed and innocent as possible in a clear attempt to, well, steer clear.  

The first episode focuses largely on Maxwell’s childhood, where it seems she was at the mercy of her monstrous father, Robert, a media baron and former British MP who was prone to angry outbursts, and was known for his bullying behaviour. We learn that at a young age, Ghislaine learnt to manage her father’s behaviour, and much to her advantage too, as through his power and wealth she entered high society, becoming a well-known socialite, friends with politicians, celebs and…. princes. We hardly need to tell you which one. So, the theory presented in this series, that Jeffrey Epstein replaced her father after his death as the rich, powerful man in her life, is rather convincing.

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The series digs through the evidence supporting the claim, talking with Maxwell’s brother Ian who defends her vehemently, and speaking with survivors who claim she organised their abuse. They discuss how Maxwell acted as Epstein’s facilitator, grooming young girls and women into being sexually abused by the now dead financier, and talking of the lasting impact the trauma has had on their lives. The anger in Maria Farmer’s voice is apparent. However, much more time is given here to unpicking the daddy issues the series blames for Maxwell’s behaviour. But as compelling as their argument may be, we’re sure we all know many people who grew up under difficult circumstances – and likely without the massive wealth Maxwell enjoyed – who didn’t then go on to become the (alleged) partner in crime to a horrific sexual predator. Just a thought.

If you need a more gentle watch after this one, give My Octopus Teacher a go

The critics have found this Sky Documentaries series quite enlightening, all giving good reviews bar Lucy Mangan of The Guardian, who critiqued the show for not being critical enough, saying “The desire to explain her away, and in effect excuse her, was a strong and jarring element of the first hour and a half especially of the three.” However The Telegraph’s Anita Singh says “The series is a well-researched exposé of Epstein’s crimes and the claims about Maxwell’s complicity. But it also shines a light on US high society, and the extent to which wealth can wash away all sins.” And in The Times, Carol Midgley says, “even though we had heard it before, the picture painted of her being the fluffer, the alleged madam grooming girls to feed a billionaire’s voracious sexual appetite, is grotesque.”

First shown June 2021. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.

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