Ghislaine Maxwell: Partner in Crime on ITVX review: a masterpiece of dissection
One thing rings out clear as a bell from Ben Reid’s four-part ITVX documentary Ghislaine Maxwell: Partner in Crime – she was no observer. This masterpiece of dissection leaves viewers in little doubt about the culpability of the disgraced British socialite when it comes to her paedophile lover Jeffrey Epstein’s crimes. Both, it reveals, were as bad as each other. If police said DJ Jimmy Savile “groomed a nation”, they did it on both sides of the Atlantic.
Reid’s series contains graphic testimony of sexual abuse and threats to kill young women if they dared speak, and like an onion, slowly unpeels to reveal Maxwell at the centre of it all.
Not everyone in it is convinced, of course. Maxwell’s siblings, Ian and Isabel, insist she is a scapegoat for financier Epstein, who killed himself in jail before he could stand trial. “There has to be someone to pay the price, a patsy,” says Ian, while Isabel believes her sister is voiceless and has suffered injustice on a scale of the Salem witch trials (yes, she actually makes that comparison).
Lady Victoria Hervey, a friend of the couple who dated Prince Andrew, is convinced the complainants are lying. But quite frankly, all are drowned out by survivors like Maria Farmer, who tells the documentary: “Jeffrey was sick, but I hate her more because she’s a woman and she fed women to him.”
Sarah Ransome, who addressed the court at Maxwell’s sentencing, says: “Ghislaine knew exactly what she was doing, every single second. She’s going to rot in hell.”
Maxwell and Epstein led gilded lives, surrounding themselves with royalty and the rich, like Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and Bill Gates, believing it made them untouchable. We hear about their infamous dinner parties on the first floor of his Manhattan townhouse with “the 30 most interesting people in America around the table”.
Up on the sixth and seventh floors, though, there were more sinister goings-on. Between 1994 and 2004, women were exploited and raped in massage rooms, having been lured there by Maxwell at Epstein’s behest. Epstein, 66, was found dead in his cell at a federal jail in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. His death was ruled a suicide. The 61-year-old Maxwell was sentenced last year, to 20 years in a US prison.
In harrowing detail, Farmer, 52, a young artist at the time, describes being sexually assaulted by the pair, running to her room and barricading the door.
“Ghislaine tried to silence me, my life has been threatened. When I quit, she told me my career was burned. She never said, ‘I’m going to kill you’ and this is how [it will happen]. She says, ‘You’re going out to jog on the highway every day. You need to be careful because there’s so many ways to die there. Look over your shoulders’.”
The first episode tells how Ghislaine was the favourite of newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell’s nine children. Black and white home video of her aged five at a family Christmas party shows a blissful little girl, dressed formally in an ivory dress, smiling as turkey is served on a plate she is holding. Ghislaine looks up at an adult seeking reassurance before turning away to get more food from another table. Later we see her climbing a ladder to hang baubles on a tree before jumping off into her protective father’s arms at their stately home, Headington Hill Hall in Oxfordshire.
Ghislaine grew up believing if she did as she was told, Robert, “a ruthless, unkind man”, would guarantee the world was her oyster.
After his death in November 1991 and the discovery that her father had plundered millions from the Mirror Group pension fund, his favourite daughter fled, humiliated and penniless, to the one city where people are allowed to reinvent themselves – New York.
She soon met and became the lover of Epstein, then a 38-year-old wealthy businessman with a hidden past. New York society columnist R Couri Hay explains: “Ghislaine Maxwell’s father left her penniless, homeless and rudderless. It was very tough on Ghislaine.
“I believe she targeted Epstein as a rich, attractive man of means that she should know. She set out to capture his attention and love. She was used to power and privilege… addicted to it. She needed a new income stream, she needed a sugar daddy. And she found him in Jeffrey Epstein.”
Inevitably, however, their relationship started to “wear thin” as Epstein had affairs with younger and younger women. Sex-obsessed Maxwell ignored yoga teacher Maxine Tobias, who said he would never marry her. Instead, she enthusiastically did more of his bidding, hanging around school gates for his preferred “blonde, flat-chested” prey.
Produced by Francis Baker, Fiona Caldwell, Fatima Salaria and Yvonne Alexander, the docuseries’ finale throws a spotlight on the #MeToo movement in 2017 before bringing us right up to guilty verdicts delivered against Maxwell at Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in 2021. Aimed very much at viewers who want the full story, the filmmakers bring clarity to an often unspeakable subject.
It could be tempting to see her as a ruined, sad little rich girl, betrayed by her father and, emotionally ill-equipped to make her own way, left in desperate need of someone to fill that void. But as Virginia Giuffre, Prince Andrew’s accuser (Prince Andrew denies wrongdoing but that case was concluded with an out-of-court settlement), who describes Ghislaine as “a predator monster”, remarks: “She was more conniving and smarter than Epstein ever was. She was the mastermind, worse than Epstein.”
You wonder how much good, had she taken a different path, Ghislaine could have done in the world with her high profile, her gilded life, her connections. She tried to reinvent herself once more as the heat began to turn up in 2014, speaking at the United Nations about ocean conservation. Now it is her reputation swimming with the fishes.
Ghislaine Maxwell: Partner in Crime will air on ITVX on February 9