Three hours into Netflix doc series Harry & Meghan and still no tell-all truths from the darkest corners of the House of Windsor. Anyone who had expected the curtain to be lifted on the deep-state machinations of The Firm to protect the brand will be feeling short-changed by Volume I which dropped today. The reported estrangement between Prince Harry and Prince William remains a closed book. Whatever the Queen said to Harry when he resigned from royal duties, it is still – like almost everything the Queen has ever said about anything – swathed in a decorous silence.
There are, as promised on the program’s title page, a wealth of images from the vaunted “never before seen personal archive,” but they’re mostly holiday snaps. Very happy snaps, certainly; very sweetly romantic and often goofy memories that include an Instagram pic of Meghan dressed up as a dog, but nothing that would trouble the print run of a tabloid front page.
The story so far is a straightforward romance, with the best-looking royals no longer in the business seen sitting on a couch agreeing that, guess what, they fell madly in love on their second date, consolidated the deal on a camping trip to Botswana, and realized that they also made a great philanthropic team. Harry says Meghan was everything he was looking for. “He had a list of things,” says Meghan, with just a touch of tartness. “Let’s not go there,” says Harry, with just the right dash of sheepishness.
It’s not all sweetness. They have a few targets in their sights, but they’re well outside the palace gates. Most of the second, and much the third, episode are given over to excoriating the said tabloids for doing the nasty stuff tabloids do: sending photographers to stake out Meghan’s Toronto apartment and following her to work, making snide allusions to her racial background – could a mixed-race woman really be a princess? – and paying her more venal relatives big bucks to cook up stories about her “dirt-poor” past and mean-spirited present, which effectively ended her relationship with her father who, very unfortunately, proved susceptible to their bribes.
This accumulation of miseries does bring home what being constantly watched does to you, especially if you’re not to the manner born, but to describe the British press pack as malevolent is hardly to invite controversy. They do turn up the heat a couple of degrees In the third episode, in which they take aim at the frequently fudged history of slavery in the British Empire, which was only redrafted as the Commonwealth in 1948, with some colorful footage of the young Queen Elizabeth serenely meeting whole villages wearing mud masks and carrying spears. One Black historian describes the Commonwealth as Empire #2.
There were hopes, says one of the pundits, that Harry’s marriage to someone who looked like the majority of people in the Commonwealth would start the conversation about the past – about slavery and race – that Britain needed to have. Next up, the Sussexes are seen attending a memorial service for Stephen Lawrence, a Black teenager murdered at a bus stop by a bunch of white thugs 25 years ago. Harry gives a rousing speech. So that’s something new. Harry and Meghan may not have been able to turn the ship entirely, but they had a decent shot at it.
None of this, however, is the royal evisceration we have been expecting. Presumably, the Harry Formerly Known As a Prince and his maligned wife will go into a bit more detail in next week’s Volume II on what prompted them to walk away from the whole thing and set up shop in California.
We’ve had insights into what constitutes a royal wave (“keep it small,” Meghan advises), the perils of sitting on Prince Philip’s deaf side (none, really: he was adept at creating the impression of conversing) and Harry’s gratitude for his 10 years of active military service with “ordinary, normal people.”
Meghan’s old school friends, her mother, a favorite niece and her dog are now part of our lives. But what about the real royal dirt? Who was horrible and how? Come on, that’s why we’re here. As the royal reporters say, you gotta give us something.