CNN — When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced in early 2020 that they were stepping down from their roles as “senior” royals, effectively quitting the royal family, they described a culture of familial tension, relentless scrutiny, and some misogyny. They no longer desired to be followed, obsessed over, and watched by the media. Harry didn’t want to be reminded of his mother’s tragic death every time he and Meghan were photographed; Meghan didn’t want to be tabloid fodder for what she wore, how she did her hair, where she was from, or how much she did or didn’t enjoy the spotlight. They desired financial independence, to live as regular people, and to raise their children privately.
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And yet, here they are, co-producing “Harry & Meghan,” a new six-part docuseries whose first three episodes premiered this week, detailing their lives with a never-before-seen look into the couple’s “personal archive,” commentary from close friends and family members speaking out for the first time, and lots of direct access to Harry and Meghan themselves in interviews filmed over the last few years. The series begins with individual self-taped video diaries by Harry and Meghan from 2020 — the first hint that they may not have intended to keep their private lives private after all.
Indeed, “Harry & Meghan” teaches us that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are more interested in controlling how they appear in the spotlight than in staying out of it. But that’s not how celebrity works.
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That’s just one of the reasons “Harry & Meghan” is a royal flop. The couple left the family because they did not want the attention. But, clearly, they didn’t want any negative attention or criticism — a very primitive (and, ironically, very royal) attitude. In life — in real life — there is no good without the bad. The production, then, is an attempt to gain sympathy for themselves rather than to reveal “the full truth” that “no one knows,” as Harry says in the film’s opening few minutes. When asked why she wanted to make this documentary, Meghan says, “When you feel like people haven’t gotten any sense of who you are for so long, it’s really nice to just be able to have the opportunity to let people have a bit more of a glimpse into what’s happened and also who we are.”
But who’s to say people haven’t gotten a glimpse of who they are? What makes their version — a heavily produced, edited, and controlled version — more honest than any other version of their lives? It’s striking how much the filtered version of events functions in the series as their version of reality. Meghan recalls how, when she first met Harry, she wanted to look through his Instagram feed to get to know him, and social media posts make up a significant portion of the archive that guides their story together.
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Harry and Meghan’s fatal flaw — both the couple’s and the film’s — is believing they can control how others perceive them. None of us can. And the fact that the couple keeps trying despite also asking to be left alone reflects a naive outlook and dishonest attitude that viewers will pick up on, especially given that the documentary attempts to portray them as “more grounded” than the rest of the royal family. In reality, they may be the most out of touch of all.
Just as disappointing is the series’ content, which is mostly repetition of what we’ve already seen or heard. There are some new elements — friends who have never commented, photos we have never seen — but there is little payoff and little to change people’s minds about them. It’s self-promotional, self-aggrandizing, and, to be honest, a little boring. They do not come across as more likeable, and may even come across as less so. Notably, this is possibly the first time that the majority of the vitriol is directed at Harry rather than just Meghan.
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Whereas he may have been viewed by the public as a helpless victim of a cunning attention seeker, or as suffering from a form of “repetition compulsion” in which he is repeating in his adult life a scenario familiar to him as Princess Diana’s son, viewers will almost certainly have less sympathy now. With “Harry & Meghan,” it’s clear that he’s purposefully chosen to see what he wants to see.
In fact, if “Harry & Meghan” is a ploy to get people truly disinterested in their comings and goings, they may have succeeded. “I just really want to get to the other side of all of this,” Meghan says to the camera in the first few minutes of the first episode. She might finally get her wish with “Harry & Meghan.”