Does Meghan and Harry’s Netflix documentary live up to its no-holds-barred expectations? Well, within the first five minutes we’ve seen a makeup-less Meghan, hair wrapped in a towel, crying into her phone camera – so I’m going to say yes.
“What are we doing?” the couple wonder more than once, as they reflect on their actions in this slightly hysterical fever dream of self-aggrandisement. They say they want to be able to tell their story, a story they feel they weren’t allowed to tell before, but now seem to tell professionally for a living. There are no major revelations here, nothing so incendiary that it will cancel King Charles’s coronation next year; in fact, certain quotes are becoming a bit pat. The first three episodes cover their early courtship up to the eve of their wedding, and are a mix of melodramatically soundtracked, soft-focused photo montages, doe-eyed soppiness and hollow self-mythologising. But with another instalment released next week, focusing on the wedding and the couple’s subsequent spectacular exit, there may still be bombshells on the way. A disclaimer tells us that all interviews were completed by August 2022, before the death of the Queen – but perhaps a mention will have been crowbarred in, last minute?
The first episode recounts how they met, and it’s actually quite sweet how they both seem to regard it as the most extraordinary thing ever to have happened. There is a relentless amount of intimate material – personal photos and videos, private texts and emails. I totally respect the fact that the pair, mocked elsewhere for apparently being hypocritical about privacy, have the right to share this stuff on their own terms. But, seriously, it’s fine, guys. We believe you! You are in love! There’s no need to show us any more of your WhatsApps!
When interviewed, they seem unable to talk like normal people. “This is a great love story. And the craziest thing is, I think it’s just getting started,” Harry says. “Make sure, in your summer plans, you leave room for magic,” Meghan says that a Suits castmate advised her. She planned to stay single, but “then came H. Talk about a plot twist”. Oh, and at one point, she recites entirely from a memory and completely earnestly, a poem she wrote as a child about the pain of her parent’s divorce. Early on, Meghan explains her frustration that people don’t really get who she is, but there’s something very uptight in the sense she is constantly trying to curate her image. In one apparently candid moment in their garden, she airily sighs, and says, “Both the babies are down. It’s a nice night. Just picking some roses.”
There’s plenty of dynamite stuff to give the Sussexes’ detractors something to spew over. At points, it’s hard to tell if the couple are naïve or disingenuous. Did Meghan really think it was “a joke” that she had to curtsy to the Queen of England? It might be an outdated request, but it surely can’t have been an unexpected one. “Like, what’s a walkabout?” she says of her first public appearance. They also seem to have a weird pathological need to document every aspect of their lives. “We have a photo from that moment,” Meghan’s friend says, of the conversation when she learnt of the royal relationship. You bet they do. They have a photo of everything. In one of the many moments I had to rewind in disbelief, there’s a recording of Meghan whispering down the phone to her friend, just before Harry proposes. What? Why? How? Who does that?
Harry, meanwhile, rants about some of his pet causes, disparaging royal correspondents and declaring “anyone can be a royal expert”. (Why are you disrespecting Patron Saint Tina Brown like this?) Footage of William and Kate features, with voiceovers from historians saying things like “they have very little autonomy”. There are other sideswipes, such as Harry’s suggestion that royals have often married people who “fit the mould – as opposed to somebody who you are perhaps destined to be with”.
But, at times, I find the couple endearing; at others, deeply sympathetic. Learning that the story of their relationship was about to break, the couple decided to have one last night of freedom. How did they spend it? Having a Halloween party with Eugenie. Both of them seem to bear the burden of wanting to vindicate their mothers: Harry, having seen Princess Diana beleaguered by press intrusion, and Meghan, having watched her mother Doria have “the N-word” yelled at her. And the points that are made about racism in Britain and its history of empire, eloquently described by David Olusoga and Afua Hirsch, need to be taken seriously. The couple’s alienation seems to have stemmed, in a big way, from the feeling that the Firm did not understand or do enough about Meghan's experiences of racism. It’s hard to think now that it couldn’t have been better dealt with, particularly in light of the recent Lady Hussey row.
What has always felt most upsetting about Megxit is the sense of missed opportunity. Here, we’re reminded of the excitement around Meghan joining the family, the hope that the pair’s marriage signposted a more modern, inclusive Britain. We are still dealing with the fallout of divisive, charged issues like Brexit, directly invoked here. And the couple, on a personal level, seem to still be embroiled in a lot of personal pain, too. Part two may be tougher viewing for the royal family – but I suspect it will also deepen the sense that Harry and Meghan have become trapped in their own narrative.
The first three episodes of ‘Harry and Meghan’ are available to watch on Netflix now
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