Ghislaine Maxwell’s Family Story is Succession on Steroids
It is one of the most famous overtures in literature, Anna Karenina“All happy families look the same, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” – although even the famous vegetarian Leo Tolstoy would have choked on his omelet if he had found out about the Maxwells’ misdeeds.
Because they weren’t just an unhappy family, but an incredibly horrible family. And while the Maxwells are more recently known for the links between youngest daughter Ghislaine, who was convicted of child sex trafficking last year, and deceased pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, their infamy dates back 50 years.
Like walking through the mud of a house, this three-part documentary traces it all back to family patriarch Robert Maxwell, former British MP and war hero, who bought the newspapers from the Mirror group in 1984, then flew into its pension funds to cover growing debt. It was only after his death in 1991 that the extent of his illegal activities became known. Two of his sons, Ian and Kevin, were later charged and later acquitted of a conspiracy to defraud millions.
If you get past the truly irritating opening 10 minutes that focus on an American true-crime podcaster, it’s a compelling but slightly macabre look at family, filled with talking heads of those who were there — from a secretary entrepreneur who read notes plucked from a trash can, to an antique dealer who found microphones hidden in a lamp bought at a Maxwell clearance sale, to the friend Maxwell hired to write a song for Epstein’s 40th (she asked that she include a line about Epstein’s erection around the clock), to a crisis manager Epstein called in after his first conviction for child prostitution.
Crucially, it also includes the experiences of one of Epstein and Maxwell’s many victims, Juliette Bryant. His story is hard to listen to, but then again, it probably should be.
Throughout the documentary, Maxwell remains an almost unknowable figure: there is no real confirmation as to how she met Epstein and only pop psychology guesses why she stayed with him (was it money , power, daddy issues?). We only hear it in the first interviews she gave after her father died and after she moved to New York to start a new life. There are lots of party photos of her but nothing recent, just the courtship sketches in sepia.
What struck me the most about Maxwell’s house, however, why wasn’t it made into an HBO glossy drama? This is Succession on steroids – a media empire, billions at stake, an overbearing father, sons fighting for the station and a daughter who doesn’t see ordinary people struggling under her.