Netflix’s Harry & Meghan documentary has released all six episodes, and the series has smashed viewing records, sparked controversy, and given Harry and Meghan a golden opportunity to tell their full side of the story.
But after six episodes, the fragments of gossip that the royal couple have provided feel relatively underwhelming, mostly reheated revelations from their Oprah Winfrey interview. The Rotten Tomatoes score for the series is abysmal, with 45% from certified critics and 12% from users, with many of the comments expressing anger at the couple. But why has the series provoked such a negative reaction?
The famous Oprah Winfrey interview already exposed the racism festering inside the palace, as Meghan Markle spoke of being made to feel like an outsider, trapped inside a family bound by rigid traditions and hierarchies. Far worse was the media, which aimed at Markle and tore her reputation apart, in the wildly unprofessional manner the British tabloids are famous for.
The media frenzy (a barely disguised hate campaign, really), cultivated a disturbing amount of public anger against Markle. Markle is an inoffensive celebrity, but the British tabloids still write about her as though she is a hugely controversial figure, who dared speak ill of the royals.
Some British celebrities seem to have an unhealthy obsession with her; Piers Morgan, former host of Good Morning Britain, left the show after cruelly dismissing Markle’s comments about suffering from suicidal thoughts. Morgan stated:
“I’m sorry, I don’t believe a word she said, Meghan Markle. I wouldn’t believe it if she read me a weather report … The fact that she’s fired up this onslaught against our Royal Family I think is contemptible.”
Jeremy Clarkson, former host of Top Gear, recently wrote a disturbing column about Markle for The Sun (one of the aforementioned British tabloids, owned by Rupert Murdoch). Clarkson wrote that he loathed Meghan “on a cellular level.”
He went on to write that he was “dreaming of the day when she is made to parade naked through the streets of every town in Britain while the crowds chant, ‘Shame!’ and throw lumps of excrement at her.” Clarkson added: “Everyone who’s my age thinks the same way.”
On Twitter, His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman wrote: “That Jeremy Clarkson can write things like that, and publish them unashamed, tells us all we need to know about the way Rupert Murdoch has poisoned and rotted our public life.”
It should be noted that Prince Andrew, brother of King Charles, reportedly friends with sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, has not been subjected to nearly the same level of scrutiny and criticism by the British media.
Meghan, like Princess Diana before her, entered the Royal Family as an outsider and cracked open its polished exterior, revealing the fermenting rot within. Of course, to many members of the public, the rot is the only thing worth paying attention to. Stuffy traditionalists love when the royals stay silent and symbolic, but most people find them to be far more entertaining when their “Targaryen side” is exposed, the petty feuds and power struggles that we see in Netflix’s The Crown.
Harry & Meghan, however, is far less entertaining than The Crown; the documentary sees Harry and Meghan running dry of juicy insider gossip. The series shines a light on Harry’s tense relationship with the tabloid media; he blames Meghan’s 2020 miscarriage on the relentless onslaught, specifically citing The Daily Mail. The couple took legal action (and won) against the outlet for publishing a 2019 private letter from Meghan to her father, Thomas Markle, an action that was, allegedly, not supported by the palace.
The series also paint Prince William as something of a villain, with Harry claiming that the prince “screamed” at him:
“It was terrifying to have my brother scream and shout at me, and my father say things that just simply weren’t true, and my grandmother quietly sit there and take it all in,” Harry said, referencing his father, then-Prince Charles, and Queen Elizabeth II.
Meghan delves further into the details of her alienation, noting she was perceived by the palace to be a threat, as opposed to an ally who could help modernize the monarchy.
Intriguingly, the series also highlights how the UK built its wealth through slavery and colonialism, highlighting the monarchy’s role as the face of the Empire; a historian featured in the series even describes the Commonwealth (the passion project of the late Queen’s life) as “the Empire 2.0.” This is a fascinating segment, but we don’t hear any of it from Harry or Meghan themselves.
One is left to wonder how the two could possibly reform an institution based on the fiction that royal DNA is inherently superior, that those born into this magical family deserve to sit on a throne, wearing a crown glistening with stolen jewels.
The titular subjects of this documentary still seem bound to the monarchy, the oppressive institution they are supposedly trying to escape. At certain points, the couple’s comments and complaints become borderline distasteful.
There is currently a catastrophic cost of living crisis in the UK, and in this context, Harry and Meghan’s problems come across as irrelevant; there is only so much sympathy one can have for pampered celebrities.
Markle even talks about living in a “small” cottage in the grounds of Kensington Palace, stating: “Kensington Palace sounds very regal, of course it does, but Nottingham Cottage is so small.” The couple laugh about how the ceilings were so low Harry would often bump his head, and that when Oprah Winfrey came over for tea she said of their small home, “No one would ever believe it.”
Viewers noticed that many of the couple’s complaints were coming from a place of immense privilege, and that the two seemed intent on dragging out their feud with the palace, instead of simply moving on. Radio personality Howard Stern said of the documentary:
“…it’s just very weird to watch two people who keep screaming, ‘We wanted our privacy, we wanted the press to leave us alone.’ And then what is their special that they put out on Netflix — showing you them and their kids and their life. It’s like the Kardashians, except boring … Where do you go with this? Is this your career…talking about how humiliated you were being part of, I don’t know, living in a castle — and it’s hard to relate to. It’s like, it looks pretty terrific to me.”
Bethenny Frankel, a former Real Housewives of New York star, said on TikTok: “If you are being trolled by the media, the royal family gave you the advice to say nothing because that’s the advice that most very famous people are given. If you add gasoline to a fire, the fire blows up even bigger. It feels like they — and Meghan in particular — just keep wanting to tell us more.”
Between Harry & Meghan, and the most recent, lackluster season of The Crown, viewers have been over-saturated with royal family drama.
Harry and Meghan might have given the public a good peek under the curtain, but perhaps it’s time to move on.
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