CNN — When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced in early 2020 that they would step down as “senior” royals, effectively leaving the royal family, they described a culture of familial tension, relentless scrutiny, and some misogyny. They no longer wanted to be followed, obsessed over, and watched by the media. Harry didn’t want to be reminded of his mother’s tragic death every time he and Meghan were photographed; Meghan didn’t want to be tabloid fodder for what she wore, how she styled her hair, where she was from, or how much she did or didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight. They desired financial independence, to live as ordinary people, and to raise their children privately.
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And yet, here they are, co-producing “Harry & Meghan,” a new six-part docuseries whose first three episodes premiered this week, detailing their lives with a never-before-seen look into the couple’s “personal archive,” commentary from close friends and family members speaking out for the first time, and plenty of direct access to Harry and Meghan themselves in interviews filmed over the last few years. The series begins with individual self-taped video diaries by Harry and Meghan from 2020 — the first indication that they may not have intended to keep their private lives private after all.
Indeed, “Harry & Meghan” teaches us that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are more interested in controlling how they appear in the spotlight than in remaining out of it. But, you know, that’s not how celebrity works.
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Take a look at how Prince Harry proposed to Meghan Markle.
This is just one of the reasons “Harry & Meghan” is a royal flop. The couple left the family because they did not want to be the center of attention. But it was clear that they didn’t want any negative attention or criticism — a very primitive (and, ironically, very royal) attitude. There is no good without the bad in life — in real life. The production, then, is an attempt to generate sympathy for themselves rather than to reveal “the full truth” that “no one knows,” as Harry says in the film’s opening few minutes. When asked why she wanted to make this documentary, Meghan says, “When you feel like people haven’t gotten a sense of who you are for so long, it’s really nice to just be able to give people a bit more of a glimpse into what’s happened and also who we are.”
But who’s to say people haven’t had a glimpse of who they are? What makes their version — a heavily produced, edited, and controlled version — more honest than any previous version of their lives? It’s remarkable how much the filtered version of events functions as the series’ version of reality. Meghan recalls that when she first met Harry, she wanted to look through his Instagram feed to get to know him, and social media posts make up a significant portion of the archive that guides their story together.
Netflix Harry and Meghan
The fatal flaw of Harry and Meghan — both the couple and the film — is that they believe they can control how others perceive them. None of us are capable. And the fact that the couple continues to try despite also requesting to be left alone reflects a naive outlook and dishonest attitude that viewers will pick up on, especially given that the documentary attempts to portray them as “more grounded” than the rest of the royal family. In reality, they may be the most disconnected of all.
The series’ content is equally disappointing, as it is much of what we’ve already seen or heard. There are some new elements — friends who have never commented before, photos we haven’t seen before — but there’s little payoff and little to change people’s minds about them. It’s self-promotional, arrogant, and, to be honest, a little boring. They don’t come across as more likeable, in fact, they may come across as a lot less so. Notably, this is possibly the first time that much of the vitriol is directed at Harry rather than just Meghan.
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Whereas he was once viewed by the public as a helpless victim of a cunning attention seeker, or as suffering from a form of “repetition compulsion” in which he is repeating in his adult life a scenario familiar to him as Princess Diana’s son, viewers will almost certainly have less sympathy for him now. With “Harry & Meghan,” it’s clear that he’s made a conscious decision to see what he wants to see.
In fact, if “Harry & Meghan” is a ploy to get people truly disinterested in their comings and goings, they may have succeeded in one area. “I just really want to get to the other side of all of this,” Meghan says to the camera in the first episode’s opening minutes. She may finally get her wish with “Harry & Meghan.”