They’ve got the builders in at Buckingham Palace. Having just watched the trailer for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s Netflix documentary, someone should tell them to forget about the renovations. What they need is a bunker because boy, is this going to be ugly. Harry and Meghan aren’t just upset about a few courtiers or whingeing about who made whom cry at a bridesmaid fitting. That’s old news. Been there, done that, told Oprah. This time, they’re going for gold. Even after three years, two children, 16 bathrooms and a chicken coop, their rage and fury about their ten terrible minutes in the royal family is baffling.
What the trailer makes clear is that they want to blow up the whole institution and everyone in it. Harry talks about not just his wife’s infamous struggles, but “the pain and suffering of women who marry into this institution, the feeding frenzy”, while pictures of Diana, Camilla and Kate flash up. “There is leaking but also planting of stories,” he says, perhaps referring to the vicious briefing war his parents waged against each other when he was a child, or perhaps to the stories about Duchess Difficult, and the bullying allegations, which she denies, and the story about her wanting Diptyque air freshener in St George’s Chapel, which she does not. “It’s a dirty game,” he says, sadly.
In the opening sequence he ponders how hard it is to look back and think “what on earth happened?” although you might think even he could have formed a vague view by now. “There’s a hierarchy of the family,” he adds, showing an admirable grasp of how monarchy works. But that, inadvertently, shows the fundamental problem that it really doesn’t need six hours of Netflix footage to explain: he and Meghan were destined always to be the co-stars, not the stars. They would stand at the back of the balcony, not the front. They would walk behind William and Kate forever, and it would probably be raining. Being fêted on walkabouts would never translate into cold, hard cash, freebies had to be returned and you didn’t even get your pick of tiaras. What was the point?
What the trailer makes clear is that Harry and Meghan want to blow up the whole institution and everyone in it.
In the trailer crowds are seen chanting, “We love you Meghan!” Printing presses roll. Camera flashes detonate, possibly in their faces, probably in someone else’s. A shorter version of the trailer showed a huge press pack at a Harry Potter premiere they weren’t even at, but maybe Harry saw his own name and got confused. In other shots, a besieged Diana shields her face from photographers using a tennis racket, in scenes which simply would not happen today. Paparazzi swarm around a car that appears to be in New York, and that may contain Harry or Meghan or Harry Potter or none of them. Footage of Meghan walking down the steps of Buckingham Palace with Camilla is used to push the argument forward, whatever it might be, and her lawyer from Schillings pops up to say “there was a war against Meghan to suit other people’s agendas”. Nobody talks about all the British people who lined the streets of Windsor for their wedding, and also paid for it.
“I realized they’re never going to protect you,” says Meghan, who had 24/7 protection as a working royal. The trailer is both vague and direct all at once, a mishmash of people and events and footage from who knows where or when, because who cares? This is their truth, which may or may not accord with the truth, and their truth is that they were simply too wonderful for their own good, an argument with which listeners of Meghan’s podcasts will be familiar. There’s the inevitable balcony shot, and footage of more cheering crowds and someone who could be a respected TV pundit or Jeremy Corbyn saying “she’s becoming a royal rock star”. Then we cut back to Meghan, who snaps her fingers and says “everything changed”.
“I was terrified,” Harry says. “I didn’t want history repeating itself. No one knows the full truth. We know the full truth.” Whatever the truth, Netflix has, at vast expense, manufactured what it calls a global event and H&M are laughing all the way to the bank, but mostly filmed crying. Job done. The first three hours are out tomorrow. Take cover.
Harry & Meghan will be available for streaming on Netflix beginning December 8
Hilary Rose is a longtime columnist for The Times of London and the author of the weekly column How to Get Dressed