The opening scenes of the eagerly anticipated – or keenly dreaded – Netflix series Harry & Meghan set out the couple’s stall.
‘This is a first-hand account of Harry & Meghan’s story, and told with never before seen personal archive… all interviews were completed by August 2022.’
This hint – that nothing was affected by the Queen’s death – is then compounded by the next statement. ‘Members of the Royal Family declined to comment on the content within this series.’ The promise is clear; this is going to be explosive.
Well, it isn’t. Not so far, anyway. Instead, over a near-interminable first three hours, the viewer endures a mixture of the same biographical material that we’ve all seen a thousand times before. We see hagiographic treatment of the apparently saintly Harry and Meghan, angry attacks on the media coverage and racist harassment directed towards Meghan and, eventually, what viewers have been hoping for: direct criticism of the Royal Family, albeit less full-frontal, in these opening episodes, than might have been anticipated from the explosive and provocative – to say nothing of misleading – trailers.
Meghan describes how William and Kate’s formality ‘on the outside carried through on the inside… that formality carries through on both sides, and that was surprising to me.’
There are some unexpected angles, albeit exclusively from a left-leaning, American perspective. The commentators Afua Hirsch and David Olusoga are featured prominently, rather than the usual rent-a-quote royal commentators and historians, which is a new approach.
Olusoga offers context about racial issues, particularly British involvement in slavery, and there is a pervasive anger towards British society, high and low; from footage of Princess Diana angrily remonstrating with paparazzi while her children were small to seeing angry and abusive tweets directed towards the Duchess on screen, calling her ‘a publicity-seeking c***’ and the like.
Brexit is blamed for much of the racism that erupted in Britain from 2016 onwards, coincidentally the same year that the Harry and Meghan romance began; Olusoga describes it as ‘an inauspicious moment for Britain to be trying to live out this fairytale story of this fairytale princess and this diverse modernising country.’