House of Maxwell: a shallow and ‘hopelessly muddled’ show

The ‘big takeaway’ from this BBC documentary is that the Maxwells were ‘bonkers’

Ghislaine Robert Maxwell and Elisabeth Maxwell
Ghislaine Robert Maxwell and Elisabeth Maxwell
(Image credit: Expectation/BBC)

If your “appetite for dysfunctional media dynasties” has not been sated by Succession, the BBC’s three-part documentary House of Maxwell should hit the spot, said Ed Power in The Irish Times. It follows the rise and fall of Robert Maxwell, who was born in poverty in what is now Ukraine, became Britain’s “most notorious press baron”, and fell to his death off his yacht in mysterious circumstances in 1991.

The film tries to “join the dots” between his life and that of his favourite daughter, Ghislaine, who was last year found guilty on sex-trafficking charges. The “big takeaway” here is that the Maxwells were “bonkers”. Robert’s former secretary recalls a phone call between him and Ghislaine. “Miaow,” he said. “Miaow, miaow, miaow,” she responded.

The show goes over some familiar ground, said Hannah Jane Parkinson in The Observer – Maxwell’s “competitive obsession with Rupert Murdoch” is well-documented, for instance – but there are plenty of interesting moments. It helps that Maxwell had “such ego that he employed a camera crew to accompany him everywhere”, and also that he bugged his employees: the production team gained access to “panicked executive phone calls” in the hours after Maxwell’s disappearance.

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I wasn’t impressed, said Christopher Stevens in the Daily Mail. This documentary can’t decide whether to focus on Maxwell’s rise, his apparent suicide, or his daughter’s later career as a child abuser. The result is shallow and “hopelessly muddled”.

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