I’m writing this at a desk while, a few feet away, my husband Jacek is in bed with his iPad, headphones on, watching Harry & Meghan on Netflix. It’s because I got up earlier than he did today to stream the first two episodes and now he wants to catch up. The reason I’m telling you this is because the show has something for everyone. For fans of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Sussex Squad, as they say, this is mandatory. For those of us who aren’t necessarily super fans but obviously want all the dish, this is delicious. And for the haters, the Megxit people, as they’re called, come on, please, they’ll love it too. A friend of mine said the other day that she wishes we could have a Netflix viewership map for the “I won’t be watching” crowd… because… of course they’re watching. It’s kind of like the “who cares?” commentor online or on social media. You know that person? The one who comments “who cares” on a post when they just cared enough to post a comment? There’s definitely a Venn overlap between those demographics.
According to media reports ahead of the release of Harry & Meghan, the couple wanted to walk back certain comments they made during filming. According to Meghan during her interview with Variety, this is not necessarily the way she and Harry would have told their story, exactly, but they accept that what will be out there is through the filmmaker’s lens. As I noted the other day, the Netflix lens is also important. They know their audience, they know their algorithm, they know what will get people watching and re-watching, they know the formula. Which is why Harry & Meghan has the beats of a rom-com, a romantic drama, a true crime series, and also… a reality show.
Of course it’s a reality show. The British royal family is the OG reality show family. Well before the Kardashians, it was the Windsors. As Robert Hazell, Professor of Government and the Constitution, and author of The Role of Monarchy in Modern Democracy, who is featured in the docuseries, says in the first episode:
“But in order to survive in the future, [the British royal family] need to maintain that popularity. And all the royal households have press offices to ensure that there is pretty constant publicity about the royal family. And that it is pretty constantly good publicity.”
They don’t use their own cameras though – they use the media…but it’s still a show. They are shown with their sashes, sabers, and tiaras. They are shown with their horses and their crowns. They are shown on hunting trips, on holiday, and at the hospital.
Their problem is that their show got boring and outdated…but the show must go on. The reality show must go on. And the reality shows that people are watching is the Kardashians and Housewives. But is there really a difference here aside from titles? The British royal family sells plates with their faces on them. What’s the difference between them and Bethenny Frankel and her wine?
But when you think about it, the Bravo audience has more consumer power. And there’s a whole generation of people who care more about any Housewife of any city and the Kardashians than they do the royals…
This is the audience that Netflix is reaching out to with Harry & Meghan. Because Harry & Meghan are who that generation will most respond to. Harry and Meghan claim that they’re not leaning into that but they are. In even agreeing to do this documentary in the first place, they totally are. And they’re leaving the royal family behind. Because if King Charles and his people keep doing things the way they’ve always done, they will not be able to keep up with this kind of storytelling.
I’m only two episodes into the three episodes that they’ve released so far but here are some quick notes on what we’re dealing with:
The Romance and Family
As promised in the trailer, there is a LOT of exclusive footage, shared by Harry and Meghan themselves, to set up the early part of their relationship when they were secretly set up and when they were secretly dating. All of these images – of Harry’s disguises, of Harry and Meghan kissing in a photo booth, of the two of them video-chatting, cuddled up on their third date in Botswana – work like an Instagram reel, a highlight package of their love in bloom.
This has been what people have been imagining since 2016, when news of their relationship first broke. Pages and pages of this has been written about, or speculated about, in magazines and tabloids. So the power of this moment is that we finally have a visualisation of the love story that’s been embedded in the cultural consciousness for years.
There’s also footage of their private family moments, adorable scenes of Archie running around, enjoying his birthday, exploring the beach and the garden, bird-watching with his father geeking out over the hummingbirds while he, precociously, talks about his dirty feet. To echo the point above, people have been imagining Archie’s life since he was born, and there’s been so little information provided publicly about him, these images are now filling that void.
But including Archie here, and also a few brief shots of Lilibet, serves a point. As Harry says, “My son, my daughter, my children are mixed race and I'm really proud of that. When my kids grow up and they look back at this moment and they turn to me, they say, "what did you do in this moment?" I want to be able to give them an answer.”
â€œMy children are mixed race and Iâ€™m really proud of that. When my kids grow up and they look back at this moment and they turn to me and say, â€˜what did you do in this moment?â€™ I want to be able to give them an answer.â€— Omid Scobie (@scobie) December 8, 2022
â€”Prince Harry pic.twitter.com/vvZ6XRMCPH
One of the strongest parts of the series so far is how they connected Harry and Meghan’s moment to Brexit. There was already a gross and dangerous current flowing through the UK at the time with immigration a key political issue, with right-wing leaders fomenting racial and cultural polarisation. In that environment, Prince Harry, born to a family of historical colonisers, falls in love with a Black American woman. The documentary succinctly ties this together to highlight the racism that Meghan experienced and why the way they were harassing her is different from the way that other women marrying into the royal family before her were harassed.
The Friends and Family
Just yesterday, hours before the release of Harry & Meghan, the Daily Mail published an article about how “Friends and Family snub Harry and Meghan’s Netflix show”, suggesting that Harry and Meghan have no friends or relatives showing up for them.
There are a lot of friends who show up in the documentary. Several of Meghan’s friends, including actress Abigail Spencer, show up to talk about the early days of their romance. Harry has friends who remember what it was like going to school with him. Prince Seeiso of Lesotho shows up to talk about their bond and how they founded Sentebale together and why being in Lesotho was more like home for Harry than it was in England.
And then there’s Doria Ragland, Meghan’s mother, speaking at last. Again, I’m only two episodes through, but Doria’s contribution may end up being the most powerful of all. Because Doria has remained quiet but Doria has been here. She has witnessed all of it. She’d had to watch as racists targeted her daughter. And in one heartbreaking scene, after Meghan talks about how her Blackness was made an issue after her and Harry’s relationship was exposed, Doria says that:
“As a parent, in hindsight, absolutely I would like to go back and have that kind of real conversation about how the world sees you.”
Because Doria knew, right away, that the British tabloids feeding into white supremacy would make their situation about race. As the documentary digs deeper into the racism in upcoming episodes, and expands that conversation to include the royal family’s racial bias, it’ll be very interesting to compare Doria’s empathy for her child and her son-in-law to the lack of empathy from the royals.
The Feuds and Family
Two episodes in and, well, the contrast is already there. And the filmmaker’s editing choices are definitely shady. There’s a moment in the first episode when Harry is talking about royal training, and how they are encouraged to live and love, really, from “their heads and not their hearts”. And then an image of Prince William and Kate show up. That is definitely a popcorn moment.
And then later, in episode two, Meghan is recounting meeting Will and Kate for the first time and she’s in ripped up jeans and she describes how formal Will and Kate are, how you think it’s one thing to be all clenched and tight outside but to be able to exhale and just relaxed when you’re inside and the implication here is that Will and Kate aren’t like that in private. Meghan at first thought it was a joke that she had to curtsey when she met the Queen and then re-enacts, elaborately, a bow, her body folded and lowered down to her knees, and she’s laughing as she comes up while Harry watches, a bemused expression on his face.
That one is for the haters – like I said, Harry & Meghan is something for everyone and this moment will give the haters something to chew on for days as they’re already accusing Meghan of mocking royal custom and the Queen’s stature. Therefore the Queen’s memory, because Her Majesty has just died, and now Meghan is out here remembering her first audience with Britain’s longest-reigning monarch with humour.
I wonder if this was the part that Harry and Meghan wanted taken out. Because they actually speak quite fondly of the Queen and Prince Philip later on but this is the part, especially with the physical gesture, that can be amplified and taken out of context.
These are just a few observations from the first two episodes but already, it lives up to the hype of what Netflix wanted for its usual December streaming domination. I wrote the other day that Netflix is the winner here and so far, it’s proving to be true. Harry & Meghan are front page everywhere. And the streaming numbers for the first three episodes are going to be big through the weekend, before the second volume of episodes drop next week.
More analysis to come in the days ahead.