Netflix’s Harry and Meghan has been billed as a documentary, but it is clear that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have never watched that form of the genre. Hardly surprising: Prince Harry is unworldly and semi-literate and Meghan can hardly count herself as a cerebral giant. Indulgent, narcissistic and manipulative, the Prince and his Hollywood companion have done a spectacular job of undermining any reserves of sympathy they might have had in their freezing out from the Windsor universe.
Much has and will be made of the various personal details the Netflix production is promoting. The dominant theme is blame and blamelessness, enriched by a layering of score-settling. Unaware by the implications of her own conduct, Meghan herself observes that, “Most people need to find someone to blame.”
The couple are, naturally, clean, washed, pristine; the laundry of everybody else, from the media to the ghastly relatives, is not. “I believe my wife suffered a miscarriage because of what the (Daily) Mail did. I watched the whole thing,” states a forlorn Harry.
This whole “documentary” bonanza is nothing but self-worship and veneration, a vulgar attempt to rake in the dosh in a manner that makes the Kardashians look roundly decent. It lacks balance and counterpoints. There is no hint of contrarianism. The narrative is powdered and sugared to the Sussex recipe, which is gagging in its distastefulness.
The production initially had filmmaker and Sundance Film Festival award winner Garrett Bradley at the helm. Her previous high-profile client had been Japanese tennis player, Naomi Osaka. The appointment proved short lived, as is always the case when ego clashes with talent.
Bradley, fired over “creative differences”, had dared suggest that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex be filmed at their Santa Barbara mansion in Montecito, valued at £14 million. The couple baulked, citing privacy concerns. An alternative reading is plausible: filming in such opulent surroundings does not suggest a struggling couple living in conditions of hardship. The inner brat must be closely guarded.
One unnamed source (gardener? butler?) offered the New York Post a morsel: “There were a few sticky moments between them, and Garrett left the project. Harry and Meghan’s own production company captured as much footage as they could before Liz Garbus was hired.” It is unclear how much Garbus was permitted to do with the material, but her creative license is bound to have been clipped.
This odious six-episode monster has one looming enemy: the broader institution of the British monarchy itself, nicknamed “the Firm”. The Firm, as it were, owns them through tradition, obligation and breeding, and it is clear that Meghan’s self-absorption is never capable of realising that fundamental fact.
The senior members of the Firm get a good tongue lashing. Not even the late Queen is spared. Daddy Charles, now King Charles III, is painted as an ogre prone to leaking; brother William is mocked for his institutional understanding which is traditional: loyalty to the institution above all else.
These lachrymose, aggrieved moments of confession should delight republicans and those generally marshalled against the royals. “These kinds of confessionals,” remarks academic Laura Clancy, “risk damaging the monarchy, as they cast a light ‘behind the scenes’ of an institution which relies on magic and majesty to maintain its image.”
Generally speaking, it would be hard to damage an institution based on hereditary principles, ceremony and inbreeding, but it is certainly clear how Harry and Meghan could suffer blows. The Netflix production is part of a publicity drive that features only one topic, namely, themselves. If that brand fails, the cord to Mammon is severed.
The blows are already falling. In Jezebel, acknowledgment is made of the way the couple was hounded by the British press, and their effective demotion in the royal order. “But when they recount these emotional moments of terror and grief, it’s eclipsed by how Meghan and Harry make a spectacle of their own story.” Their narcissism is not pedestrian and untutored; it is more of the trained-before-the-lens sort.
This entire grotesque effort is also lashed and sprinkled with absurd contradictions. There is the entire mockery of privacy itself, a concept apparently cherished by the couple even as they wish to reveal their most intimate, if curated secrets, to the sound of money. We can monetise our private lives for public consumption, but the public, or anybody else for that matter, is only meant to receive our production of it.
The couple’s receipt of the President’s Award at the NAACP Image Awards must have also struck some as odd: British royals, with historical wealth built on colonisation, plunder, and enslavement, were surely the last on the list of potential recipients. Not at all: the couple had apparently excelled with “special achievement and distinguished public service.” With that in mind, it becomes impossible to discern what is authentic in this documentary, and what is the celluloid slush of make-believe.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He currently lectures at RMIT University. Email: email@example.com