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Ghislaine Maxwell has a name that many can’t pronounce and a backstory that’s shrouded in mystery. Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell seeks to rectify the latter by investigating the life of Jeffrey Epstein’s notorious girlfriend and co-conspirator, who currently resides in a Brooklyn jail awaiting trial for a variety of sex-trafficking charges that were levied against her by the U.S. federal government in 2020. Informative and comprehensive, it paints a portrait of a woman who was groomed at an early age for her eventual role as a madame for her pedophilic partner—a cretin for whom she herself groomed countless underage girls for his perverse sexual pleasure.
Peacock’s three-part docuseries (premiering June 24) is a no-frills non-fiction affair, and all the better for it. A raft of interviews with acquaintances, authors, journalists, and more provide the narrative spine for an archival footage-heavy investigation into Maxwell’s saga, which has ensnared the many rich and powerful people whom she brought into Epstein’s orbit. Those include, most infamously, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, whose damningly clumsy BBC interview receives some airplay here, as well as Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, and various celebrities—Elon Musk, Mick Jagger, Joan Rivers—whom she was photographed with at one gala event or another. Maxwell was the conduit between Epstein and high society’s cream of the crop, and though this overview presents no new bombshells about her A-list relationships, her intimate ties to dignitaries, politicians, artists, and other notable names is made definitively clear.
Those links are central to Maxwell’s fate, since it’s apparent she and Epstein made secret surveillance videos (and photographs) of visitors to their NYC townhouse home—meaning they potentially have blackmail material on a host of global big shots. These incriminating recordings have been fingered as the reason Epstein received a “sweetheart deal” from U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida (and Secretary of Labor under Trump) Alexander Acosta in 2008, when the feds had Epstein dead-to-rights on sex-trafficking crimes, and yet offered him a plea agreement that put him behind bars for 15 months—he could even come and go during the day from prison—and provided immunity to anyone related to his infractions, at least in Palm Beach. It’s also been suggested that they’re the cause of his much-debated suicide; as the conspiracy theory goes, he may have been murdered by forces that wanted to keep what he knew—and had—from seeing the light of day.
Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell can’t help but address those topics, given that Maxwell is now the only person who knows the truth behind them. Yet its primary focus is on her personal path to ignominy. As the docuseries lays out in swift and engaging fashion through home movies, news interviews, and commentary from childhood friends and writers, Maxwell grew up as the spoiled youngest child of British media mogul Robert Maxwell, who had a reputation as a titanic tyrant who cared far less about legality than he did about achieving his grand ambitions. By his side as his de facto right-hand woman, Maxwell learned how to handle and satisfy a larger-than-life male figure, using her socialite skills to further his interests. Ostensibly, those involved covertly collaborating with intelligence agencies (both the British and the Israelis), as well as purchasing the Daily Mirror and the New York Daily News, both of which he used to strongarm his adversaries and perpetrate fraud.
Maxwell’s amorphous enabler role for her father was, upon his death in 1991, easily duplicatable with Epstein, whom she could aid in a likeminded manner (the fact that both Robert Maxwell and Epstein perished under suspicious circumstances is just one of the many telling parallels between the two key men in Maxwell’s life). In Epstein, Maxwell found a moldable new paternal figure/romantic partner whose whims she knew how to fulfill. Doing so meant allegedly procuring young girls for him from schoolyards and other venues, and that was, it appears, not an objectionable task. In Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell, a collection of Epstein’s victims explain how she would trick potential targets into coming to the townhouse—often under the guise of trying out for modeling jobs, since Epstein was connected to Victoria’s Secret via its billionaire owner Leslie Wexner—where they say they’d then be forced to pleasure Epstein and also, often, Maxwell.
The picture that emerges of Maxwell is that of a cold, deviant opportunist who treated others like playthings and stepping stones, no matter the damage such behavior wrought. Whether her relationship with Epstein was romantic, sexual or transactional remains fuzzy to everyone, such as her former friend Christopher Mason, but what doesn’t seem to be in doubt is that Maxwell spent years hunting and recruiting teenage girls into becoming Epstein’s victims, and that her business on his behalf only ceased after his 2008 conviction, during which time she sought to separate herself from him by starting a goofy non-profit known as The TerraMar Project which sold gullible donors shares of the planet’s oceans. “She’s a monster,” says Maria Farmer, an aspiring artist who was hired to be a secretary at the townhouse until, eventually, she says she was abused by Epstein and Maxwell one night.
Inevitably, Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell gets around to censuring Acosta and the FBI, who had the goods on Epstein but let him slide in 2008. Why that happened is a mystery ripe for speculation. Was it simply due to Epstein’s (shadily acquired) wealth, which let him buy his way out of trouble? Was it because he had blackmail material that gave him leverage against his prosecutorial enemies? Or was it, as some in the docuseries suggest, that he had gathered such sexually explicit evidence against others on behalf of the feds as an undercover agent, and was therefore somehow more valuable on the outside than in jail?
There are no definitive answers yet to those questions, and Epstein’s Shadow: Ghislaine Maxwell knows it, which is why it mainly confines its purview to Maxwell’s repugnant work as the facilitator of her father’s and Epstein’s crimes. Its conclusion is thus a cliffhanger, to hopefully be completed in November 2021, when Maxwell is scheduled to stand trial.