By: Jo Berry
Warning: this article touches on subject matter that some readers may find distressing
A four-part Netflix documentary series that raises as many questions as it answers, Jeffrey Epstein: Filthy Rich focuses on the crimes of the millionaire financier, who sexually abused women and underage girls for decades and was also accused of trafficking minors for sex, allegedly for some of the world’s most powerful men.
His story is a tabloid editor’s dream – a man who lied about his education to get top financial jobs, who made millions (the series never quite makes it clear quite how he got his money, but that’s because nobody is really quite sure of the answer) and who moved in very prestigious circles, counting Bill Clinton, Donald Trump and Prince Andrew among his acquaintances. A man who, for many years, proved that if you are one of the elite, you can get away with just about anything.
Of course, Epstein didn’t get away with it forever. His perversions finally caught up with him in 2019 when he was arrested in New Jersey, only for his victims to be denied the chance to confront him in court when he committed suicide in prison while awaiting trial.
Filthy Rich tells the story of his crimes, how they were investigated, and, shockingly, how those investigations were sometimes stalled by those in thrall of his power and influence. The story flits from New York to Palm Beach in Florida to Epstein’s private Caribbean island that both Clinton and Prince Andrew visited. (None of the survivors have accused Clinton of any impropriety while there).
Most importantly and heartbreakingly, the documentary includes detailed interviews with some of Epstein’s victims, who were often as young as 14 or 15 when he first offered them money for massages or to bring other girls back to his house (some of the victims describe his methods of recruiting girls this way as a “sexual pyramid scheme”).
Each one, from Annie Farmer who was abused after Epstein had already assaulted her older sister, to Virginia Giuffre, the girl in the photo Prince Andrew can’t remember being taken, relates their story, their pain and their anger eloquently, while viewers are shown photos of the innocent, trusting teens they were when they first crossed Epstein’s path.
The series gives them a much-needed voice, and their descriptions of the abuse, grooming and trafficking are harrowing but necessary to hear, as are their tales of trying to get justice for years before Epstein was finally arrested.
Intercut with their stories are clips of a disdainful Epstein during a 2010 deposition where he refuses to answer any questions, the only time we hear him speak. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see many new images of him, either – the photos shown are the ones that were splashed over newspaper front pages, him with Trump, Prince Andrew, and Harvey Weinstein.
If you don’t know much about Epstein and his crimes, Filthy Rich does cover the main points without sensationalising them, but if you have already read articles about him, the series will leave you wanting more.
For example, it’s not explained why the filmmakers only talk to one ex-employee from his island – now Epstein is dead, surely there are others who would have come forward without fear of reprisal? There are very few comments from those who knew Epstein, either, aside from a brief reference to Trump publicly distancing himself from the financier, and lawyer Alan Dershowitz challenging accusations that he was one of the men who had sex with Epstein’s girls.
There are scant mentions of his family, too – it comes almost as a shock halfway through when his brother is mentioned for the first time – leaving viewers to assume that the filmmakers could find no relatives or acquaintances willing to talk about, or be associated with Epstein on camera.
And while Epstein’s victims all mention his girlfriend/companion Ghislaine Maxwell (daughter of late newspaper magnate Robert), who they claim was often involved in their procurement and abuse, there are no interviews with her, just a printed legal denial of her involvement in each episode. Director Lisa Bryant doesn’t mention Maxwell is currently under investigation, and is in hiding with newspapers offering rewards for details of her whereabouts, a tantalising nugget that may be worthy of its own episode.
In the end, this is an interesting yet incomplete documentary that is at times difficult to watch due to the survivors’ recollections, but is powerful, heart-wrenching viewing because of them.
As one of Epstein’s brave survivors says, “the monsters are still out there” – the men who Epstein loaned out his victims to, the officials who turned a blind eye, the businessmen who kept quiet having benefitted from knowing Epstein, and Maxwell and the staff at his houses who did nothing. Until they are all investigated the full story can never truly be told.