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The Duke of Sussex lays out the mission ahead in the first episode of the anticipated six-part series from the streaming giant that promises a behind-the-scenes deep dive into the early days of the couple’s blossoming romance and their subsequent separation from the royal family: “It is my duty to uncover this exploitation and bribery that happens within our media,” he says.
While expectations of what the documentary might reveal were high, the audience is not enlightened about anything truly groundbreaking in the first three episodes. Viewers are taken through an intimate retelling of what Meghan describes as a great love story with her husband, offering up personal photos and videos of their time together — from their initial introduction through a mutual friend in 2016 (not before Meghan had vetted the Prince’s Instagram feed, she revealed) through to media harassment across the globe and their time navigating a long-distance relationship before a fairy tale wedding at Windsor Castle in May 2018.
With the infamously tight lid atop the Crown’s familial turmoil having been opened, the contents spilling onto the screens of millions, Harry and Meghan were left without protection from the Firm. The former actress recalls receiving a vitriolic reception from the British tabloids. “They are destroying us,” Meghan says of being hounded by paparazzi, who would sleep in cars outside of her house and attempt to break onto the set of legal drama Suits, on which she starred as Rachel Zane.
Harry is seen describing to Meghan how U.K. tabloids work to exaggerate information and create bloated versions of off-the-cuff comments made about the royal family, including how they use the title “Royal Correspondent” to give their claims “extra credibility.” “This family is ours to exploit, their trauma is our story and our narrative to control,” he says. “I accept that there’ll be people around the world who fundamentally disagree with what I’ve done and how I’ve done it, but I knew that I had to do everything I could to protect my family, especially after what happened to my Mum (Princess Diana). I didn’t want history to repeat itself.”
The Palace’s take was that the enduring hostility and media attention were a rite of passage when you join the world’s most famous family, he explains. “Members of the family were like, ‘My wife had to go through that so why should your girlfriend be treated any differently? Why should you get special protection?’ And I said, ‘the difference here is the race element.’”
He does not disclose which members of the family suggested Harry and Meghan had no right over anyone else to receive “special protection,” but the two maintain racism was at play constantly in the press attention that Meghan received early on in their courtship — including headlines such as “Harry’s New Girl (Almost) Straight Outta Compton.”
“Who dreamed that Britain could have a Black princess?” David Olusoga, author of Black and British, tells the camera. The episodes touch on the royal family’s ties with the history and legacy of the British empire, as well as the celebration of Britain’s colonial power and its exploitation of people of color. “People don’t talk about what it’s like to be mixed race,” Meghan says of grappling with her identity growing up.
“There can be a temptation or an urge to marry someone who would fit the mold as opposed to somebody who you perhaps are destined to be with,” Harry says of members of the royal family — particularly, the men, he adds.
The documentary series also takes viewers through the death of Princess Diana, when Harry was just 12, and offers clips of the beloved Princess confronting paparazzi while she and her sons were on a skiing holiday. “I am my mother’s son,” Harry said of making decisions with his heart. “I saw things, I experienced things, I learned things — the pain and suffering of women marrying into this institution. I remember thinking, ‘How can I ever find someone who is willing and capable to be able to withstand all the baggage that comes with being with me?'”
Meghan speaks candidly about the first time she met William and Kate — in ripped jeans and while barefoot, saying she welcomed the Prince and Princess of Wales, as well as Harry, for dinner. “I was a hugger, always been a hugger,” she says. “I didn’t realize that this is really jarring for a lot of Brits…. The formality on the outside carried through on the inside. That was surprising to me.”
The documentary also addresses high-profile stories that both Harry and Meghan have contended with, including Harry being pictured wearing a Nazi uniform in 2005 and Meghan’s father, Thomas Markle, reportedly taking money from the tabloids to stage photos only a few days before their wedding. “I don’t think anyone understands what that very small (communications) team was dealing with,” she says of the joint press office Harry and William shared at the time.
The three episodes also show input from friends of the husband-and-wife duo, including Abigail Spencer, a co-star of Markle’s on Suits; Meghan’s mother Doria; producer and director Silver Tree; Meghan’s former agent Nick Collins; James Holt, executive director of the Archewell Foundation; and various close friends of the pair. The series forms part of a multiyear deal the two made with Netflix to produce content through the media arm of their nonprofit organization Archewell, produced by Story Syndicate in association with Archewell Productions and Diamond Docs.
The remaining three episodes of Harry & Meghan will be released on Netflix Dec. 15.
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