Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, shocked the world several times — first, with their exit from the UK in 2020 and their lives as royals, and then, in 2021, with their interview with Oprah Winfrey. For the moment, that interview was a triumph of narrative control. But with today’s release of the first three episodes of their Netflix documentary series, ‘Harry & Meghan’, the Sussexes surprise us once again, with just how narrowly they view their fame, and how impactful and unimaginable their presence on the world stage can be. had become. They may have dumped their responsibilities to the Crown, but they’re still in a kind of service: There’s an air of duty about the whole “Harry and Meghan” project, as if they’re bound by the honor of continuing to recite their personal homage. The story until we lose interest in the end.
Little in the first three episodes, directed by Liz Garbus, comes as news: we receive, once again, a flirtation story, Harry’s proposal, Meghan’s initial adjustment to life as a royal, her sense of being trapped by the family’s general disapproval. to engage critics. We get her father’s infidelity, as well as her intense relationship with unloved half-niece Samantha Markle. This last item is new, and brilliantly deployed to defuse criticism from the Markle family, but much has been said before. It has been said in a situation where a blunt interlocutor persuaded the husband perhaps further than he intended to go. At the top of the series, Megan asks the camera, “Wouldn’t it make more sense to hear our story from us?” The unspoken answer comes as, well, sure, but perhaps filtered through the sensibility of a journalist or presenter willing to go above and beyond the ordinary. As with the boring final season of The Crown, there seems to be a kind of narrative hang-up, an inability or unwillingness to find the next thing to say that we have yet to hear.
With Oprah, Harry and Meghan’s apparent disdain for the unnamed royals sparked excitement and feeling thoughtful. Perhaps time healed the wounds. They may have been saving their big reveal for the next batch of episodes, due out on December 15th. But the appearance is that Harry and Meghan have moved from one set of strict press controls to another, a second that is self-imposed. We get a clear sense of the stark constraints they both operate in, inviting viewers into their lives but giving up relatively little. At one point, early on, Meghan mentions a “list” Harry made of his ideal partner’s traits. A peremptory coldness enters his voice as he says “Let’s not go there,” and the subject drops. Much has been said about how Harry, in his desire for freedom and his high emotions, is really Diana’s son; It’s moments like this that remind one that he’s Charles, too.
Part of that sense of removal, even as cameras document parts of people’s lives, is probably self-protection. Press interest in them is still massive, and Garbus includes a car trip where Megan, her mind ticking, methodically tracks down the paparazzi who’ve been following them all along. And there is the matter that, no matter what the couple thinks of Charles, or William, or whatever, they are destined to be a family for life: a carefully worded note, or disclaimer, in the series’ opening advising that “all interviews were completed by August 2022.” : in other words, before the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September. Historians emerge, deep in Episode III, to describe the deep scars left by the so-called Commonwealth – not coincidentally, the passion project in the Queen’s life. But those concerns are not put to rest in Harry and Meghan’s voices, which makes very good and cringe-worthy political statements feel passive-aggressive and inappropriate. The title of the series is ‘Harry and Meghan’: wouldn’t it make sense to hear this story from them?
Harry and Meghan are people who strive to do good: Harry’s work with war veterans, for example, is admirable, and we get to see him on screen the only time he really feels comfortable. Which makes their tabloid fights that seem to have ended in a bloody draw seem like a distraction, or a painful necessity. There is a clinical quality to Harry and Meghan’s approach, a hesitant sense of going through the motions. One suspects that their ambition for their partnership with Netflix wasn’t, just, a repeat of their life story (in fact, the children’s series Meghan planned, “Pearl,” was among the many children’s projects that got cancelled). Theirs is a generic romance with big, rootable beats — love’s triumph over racism; the emergence of a progressive personality which the parochial monarchy could not hope to comprehend; A repeat of Diana’s story, with its ending, this time, on the idyllic Montecito Boulevard rather than the Paris Tunnel. But it also consisted of beats we heard, with little interest in looking forward rather than back, or in the outside world rather than the world of Haz and Meg.
It’s hard to come to that conclusion: part of the frustrating dynamic, with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, is that their most ardent critics act in callous bad faith. These are not people who are easy to criticize, for fear of ending up among those who hate them for an indescribable lack of “dignity”, or for the color of Megan’s skin. However, “Harry & Meghan” exists as a data point regarding the pair in particular, which is very disappointing. As philanthropists for legitimate good causes, they stand primarily for what I believe to be cause awareness: speaking in a reassuring, appropriate tone about a sense of a world so vague it fizzles together. The only time privacy comes into the picture is when talking about personal matters.
It’s a two-person challenge that maintaining an expensive lifestyle will require our continued attention for decades to come. As part of their Netflix deal, Harry and Meghan seem to have been forced to retell the story of their courtship, marriage, and family feuds beyond the point where they or anyone other than die-hard fans or haters can still care about them. What they want to do now that they’ve overcome adversity may be ahead of them in the next set of episodes, but speaking their voices about issues other than their personal experience would have been a good start. But perhaps that’s not the remit, on the show the couple is partnering with a major broadcasting company to cook up dirt again. Pity them too – even after liberation from Buckingham Palace, they are still someone’s subjects.
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