prince harry and his wife, Meghan Marklehave shocked the world multiple times: first, with their departure from the UK in 2020 and their lives as working royals, and then, in 2021, with their interview with Oprah Winfrey. In its time, that interview was a triumph of narrative control. But with today’s release of the first three episodes of his Netflix documentary series, “harry and meghan”, the Sussexes surprise us once again, with how narrow their view of their fame is, how narrow and unimaginative their presence on the world stage has become. They may have parted ways with their responsibilities to the crown, but they’re still in a sort of service: there’s an air of duty about the entire “Harry and Meghan” company, as if they’re honor-bound to keep reciting their personal . story until eventually we lose interest.
Little in the first three episodes, directed by Liz Garbus, hits the news: we get, once again, the story of their courtship, Harry’s proposal, Meghan’s initial adjustment to life as a royal, her sense of being trapped by the general refusal of the family. to attract critics. We get her father’s betrayal, as well as her strong relationship with the daughter of unloved half-sister Samantha Markle. This last element is new and was cleverly deployed to assuage criticism from the Markle family, but much more has been said before. And it was told in a situation where a perceptive interviewer cajoled the couple perhaps further than they intended to go. At the top of the series, Meghan asks the camera: “Doesn’t it make more sense to hear our story from us?” The implied answer is, well, sure, but perhaps filtered through the sensibilities of a journalist or presenter willing to leave the familiar behind. As with the most recent, painfully boring season of “The Crown” It seems like a kind of narrative stagnation, an inability or reluctance to find the next thing to say that we haven’t heard yet.
With Oprah, Harry and Meghan’s clear disdain for anonymous members of the royal family provided warmth and a sense of their thinking. Perhaps time has healed wounds; maybe they’re saving their big reveals for the next batch of episodes, coming out on December 15th. But the appearance is that Harry and Meghan have gone from one set of strict press checks to another, the self-imposed second. We get a clear idea of the strict restraint with which both operate, inviting viewers into their lives but giving up relatively little. At one point, early on, Meghan mentions a “list” Harry had made of his ideal match traits. A peremptory coldness enters her voice as she says, “Let’s not go there,” and she drops the subject. Much has been made of how Harry, in his desire for freedom and his high passions, is truly the son of Diana; it’s moments like these that remind one that he is Charles’s too.
Part of this sense of estrangement, even as the cameras document parts of the subjects’ lives, is probably self-protection. Press interest in them remains rapacious, and Garbus includes a car ride in which Meghan, her mind racing methodically, tracks down the paparazzi who have been tailing them throughout. And there’s the matter that no matter what the couple thinks of Charles or William or whoever, they are forced to be a family for life: a carefully worded note, or disclaimer, at the series opener tells us reports that “All interviews were completed in August 2022”: in other words, before the September death of Queen Elizabeth II. Historians appear, deep in the third episode, to describe the deep scars left by the so-called Commonwealth, not coincidentally, the Queen’s lifelong passion project.But those concerns aren’t expressed in Harry and Meghan’s own voices, making well-taken and worthwhile political statements feel passive-aggressive and out of place. The title of the series is “Harry & Meghan”: doesn’t it make more sense to hear this story from them?
Harry and Meghan are people who strive to do good: Harry’s work with veterans, for example, is admirable, and we see it on screen as the only time he really feels at ease. Which makes their tabloid fights that seemed to have ended in a bloody draw seem like a distraction or a painful necessity. There’s a clinical quality to Harry and Meghan’s approach, a grudging sense of going through the motions. One suspects that her ambition to partner with Netflix was not, solely, a reiteration of her life story (indeed, Meghan’s planned children’s series for the streamer, “Pearl,” was among several children’s projects that were cancelled). His is a public romance with great rooting rhythms: the triumph of love over racism; the rise of a progressive figure whom the stubborn monarchy could never hope to understand; the reiteration of Diana’s narrative, with her ending, this time, in a Montecito idyll instead of a Paris tunnel. But it’s also made up of beats we’ve heard, with little interest in looking ahead instead of looking back, or at the outside world instead of the world of Haz and Meg.
It’s hard to come to this conclusion: Part of the frustrating dynamic with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex is that their staunchest critics are acting in cruel bad faith. They are not easy people to criticize, for fear of ending up among those who hate them due to an ineffable lack of “dignity”, or because of Meghan’s skin color. And yet, “Harry and Meghan” exists as a data point in what the couple is so particularly frustrating about. As charitable activists for legitimately good causes, they primarily advocate what I have come to think of as Issue Consciousness: speaking in appropriately comforting tones about a sense of the world so vague it becomes blurry. The only time specificity comes into the picture is when talking about personal matters.
That presents a challenge for two figures whose continued maintenance of an expensive lifestyle will require keeping our interest for decades to come. As part of their deal with Netflix, Harry and Meghan have apparently been forced to recreate the story of their courtship, wedding and family feuds beyond the point where they, or anyone but die-hard fans or enemies, may still care. . What they want to do now that they’ve overcome adversity may well be ahead in the next batch of episodes, but speaking in their own voice on topics other than their personal experience would have been a good start. But maybe that’s not the remit, on a show that sees the pair engaged with a major broadcast corporation to clean up the mess once again. Too bad about them too, even after escaping from Buckingham Palace, they are still someone’s minions.