The first three episodes, or Volume I, of Netflix's Harry & Meghan is now out. Almost three hours of Prince Harry and his wife Meghan's side of the story — their version of events that led to them stepping down as senior members of the British royal family in early 2020.
In a nutshell, episodes one, two and three are tame. We hear more from Prince Harry in one go than we ever have before, but in about 170 minutes of television, there are very few new revelations. Perhaps they're saving some of the bigger claims for Volume II.
If you’re hoping for a newly unguarded Prince Harry to relentlessly sling mud at his father King Charles III and brother Prince William, for juicy secrets from behind palace doors or for Meghan, Duchess of Sussex to launch into a monologue about the reasons she dislikes the Princess of Wales, you’re going to be disappointed. You might also be sexist, because we have no tangible evidence that these two women actually dislike each other.
The vast majority, both predictably and understandably, spends most of its time tackling British media and the impact that a constant paparazzi presence has had on Prince Harry, both throughout his life and specifically in his relationship with Meghan.
Even for the most reverent of the anti-Sussexes out there, it would be hard to walk away from episode one without feeling enormous sympathy for Prince Harry, who has lived his whole life in the spotlight. After watching the show, I have no idea why Netflix was forced to misuse unrelated paparazzi footage in the trailer, because there is ample authentic footage of Prince Harry, particularly in his younger years.
Harry & Meghan: a love story
The first episode delivers very cute insights into their relationship and the early months that they were together.
Prince Harry describes them as having a “great love story”, they have a very romantic narrative for themselves and reveal themselves to be, dare I say, borderline cringey at times! It’s refreshing to see. They share texts they sent and screengrabs of video calls, with unseen photos and videos (they film themselves, a lot!) from their early dates and travels. Their life together in the brief three months before their relationship went public is definitely a time they hark back to and romanticise.
“Meghan sacrificed everything she ever knew, freedom that she had to join me in my world,” Harry says of his wife, “after that, I sacrificed everything I know to join her in her world.”
From the opening moments, we see that this documentary wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. They were filming themselves, in video diary format, from early 2020. The series has been in the making since they decided to step back from their senior royal roles.
There are few revelations in the show, and I am not planning to spoil the limited ones available. However, one highlight is the story of how they met. It was long rumoured they were introduced by a friend, which is not true! However, it turns out Prince Harry effectively slid into the Suits actress’ DMs. After seeing a video of Meghan on an unnamed friend’s Instagram with the dog ear and nose Snapchat filter, Harry asked the friend to set them up. The rest is history.
For fans of Prince Harry and Meghan, moments like that will be the reason to keep watching. Cute insights into their relationship and, yes, love story. For the aforementioned anti-Sussexes, they will likely induce eye-rolls and the urge to fast forward.
The big question has been why are they making this documentary: it’s not just to tell the world that they have been compiling cute videos of themselves since 2016.
Director Liz Garbus asks the Duchess of Sussex, who replies: “I’m not going to say that it's comfortable, but when you feel like people haven’t got a sense of who you are for so long, it’s nice to give people a glimpse into what’s happened and who we are.”
Prince Harry speaks about his mother, Princess Diana, at length. He compares his wife to her, saying: “So much of what Meghan is and how she is so similar to my mum, she has the same compassion, she has the same empathy, she has the same confidence. She has this warmth about her.”
He also acknowledges the criticism he has faced since stepping down and choosing to speak publicly about his role in the royal family.
“I accept that there will be people around the world who fundamentally disagree with what I have done and how I have done it, but I knew that I had to do everything I could to protect my family, especially after what happened to my mum I didn’t want history to repeat itself,” he says.
In the show, we hear from a lot of people on Meghan’s side, including her mother Doria Ragland, niece Ashleigh Hale, and famous friends tennis star Serena Williams and Suits actress Abigail Spencer. Only a handful of Prince Harry’s friends feature in the documentary.
The show opens with a disclaimer that for “interviews completed by August 2022, members of the royal family declined to comment on the content within the series.” At no stage in the series is the September death of Queen Elizabeth II referenced.
Commentary about race and colonialism
The documentary offers insightful and important commentary on race and colonialism in Britain. Meghan’s race and her racist treatment are referenced throughout as key factors in why she was treated differently by the press and online.
Ragland is the first to say, “This is about race,” when reflecting on the rhetoric they face. Meghan says she initially “genuinely didn’t think about it.”
The closest we get to Prince Harry speaking negatively about his family comes in episode two, when he reflects on the way people, particularly women, marrying into the institution are hounded by paparazzi, something they see as a “rite of passage”.
“Some of the 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 treatment? Why should she be protected?’” he says. “And I said, ‘The difference here is the race element.’”
The documentary analyses Britain’s relationship with race, colonialism and the commonwealth, with experts including historian David Olusoga, who wrote Black and British: A Forgotten History, speaking throughout. It also looks at the way attitudes in Britain were shifting in the wake of Brexit, the time when Prince Harry and Meghan faced the most public scrutiny.
Olusoga says of the couple and their role within the royal family: “I wanted it to work, as so many people wanted it to work.”
Overall, Harry & Meghan isn't going to change many minds, but it may polarise opinion of them further. There are moments the Duchess of Sussex appears too underprepared to take on a royal role — she says she Googled the British national anthem, Harry checked if she knew how to curtsy moments before she first met the queen and she had no idea what a walkabout was before embarking on her first one in 2017.
The Duchess of Sussex also says there is no Princess Diaries-style etiquette training, and while she may not have had it, those services definitely exist. That said, as the documentary makes clear, Prince Harry and Meghan's woes within the firm couldn't (or wouldn't) have been fixed in a few hours with Julie Andrews.
Volume II of Harry & Meghan is out on Netflix on December 15