A version of this story appeared in the December 8 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s new Netflix docuseries was billed by the streamer as a “global event,” so now that we have the first three episodes – did it live up to the hype?
Fair warning: spoilers ahead so turn back now and return later if you’re still planning on watching. But for those who are ready, let’s get into it.
Directed by Liz Garbus, the first episode opened with a video diary filmed by Prince Harry on his cell phone in March 2020. “No one knows the full truth, we know the full truth, the institution knows the full truth, and the media knows the full truth,” he says to camera right after the couple’s final engagement as working royals.
That statement summed up this first batch of episodes. The pair have often spoken of feeling misrepresented and misunderstood. Now, they’re offering their unfiltered perspectives directly. It’s a fascinating insight into the couple and fans will love learning about the early days of their courtship – complete with private photos capturing deeply personal milestones in their relationship.
These episodes also detail Meghan’s first exposure to the structures and demands of royal life, as well as the prince’s childhood and the pervasive nature of Britain’s tabloid media. Harry specifically compared Meghan’s experience to that of his mother, Diana, and his family’s response to his anxieties.
“As far as a lot of the family were concerned, everything that she was being put through, they had been put through as well. So, it was almost like a rite of passage,” the duke said. “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 said, paraphrasing their arguments. Harry also recalled explaining that “the difference here is the race element.”
In the end, the series offers no massive revelations or bombshells yet. Instead, the couple have strategically charted their relationship and challenges, returning to the issues that they had with the institution and fleshing them out. While explaining the mechanics of the monarchy and its setup of multiple palaces within the institution, they also doubled down on statements from their infamous Oprah interview that they were unsupported and isolated, with friends and others close to them providing commentary to bolster the couple’s recollections.
So far, the couple have gone right back to the beginning to create their own record of their departure as senior royals and document what they feel they went through. That suggests part two might get into how they responded and why.
Few moments targeted specific members of “The Firm” specifically – largely they were mentioned in passing. As a result, there wasn’t a huge amount for Buckingham Palace to respond to, but we did get the sense the royal household was flustered by the release.
In the opening slate of the first episode, the docuseries noted that members of the “Royal Family declined to comment on the content” within the series. Buckingham Palace had also initially told press it wasn’t going to comment on the program.
But by Thursday afternoon, various royal households seemed to be responding to the docuseries differently. One palace was briefing reporters that no one in the clan had been approached, while the other said they had received some communication from a production company but hadn’t been able to verify who was on the end of the email.
In watching the first few episodes, you get the sense that it may be setting the scene for fireworks next week. Particularly when you remember that one of the trailers had a major claim that the palace was planting stories against the Sussexes in the press. That wasn’t addressed in this first volume from Netflix, so any bombshells the palace fears may still be yet to come.
The much-anticipated docuseries “Harry & Meghan” offers an intimate look at the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.
KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM THE SUSSEX DOC
There may not have been the jaw-dropping moments some might have been hoping for. But the first three episodes did cover a lot of ground. From first dates, to royal meetings and vacationing in Botswana, have a read of 13 things we learned from the series. Read more here.
WHO IS LIZ GARBUS, THE DIRECTOR HARRY AND MEGHAN ENTRUSTED WITH THEIR SERIES?
The docuseries tells the story of two lives in front of the camera – but, as always, there has to be someone behind it. Meet Liz Garbus, the Emmy-winning and two-time Oscar-nominated documentarian who has tackled topics ranging from voter disenfranchisement in the US to the life of Marilyn Monroe. But this docuseries will be her most pored-over work to date, after the Sussexes chose to confide in her.
“It’s nice to be able to trust someone with our story – a seasoned director whose work I’ve long admired – even if it means it may not be the way we would have told it,” the duchess said about Garbus in a Variety interview earlier this year. “We’re trusting our story to someone else, and that means it will go through their lens.” Read more about Garbus here.
MEGHAN’S MOM SHARES REGRET
Doria Ragland, Meghan’s mom, featured prominently. And she began with a frank admission: “The last five years have been challenging.”
As she detailed the highs and lows of her daughter’s entrance into this new – and often strange – world of the royal family, Ragland recalled meeting her future son-in-law. “He was 6’1”, a handsome man with red hair, really great manners. He was just really nice. And they looked really happy together. Yeah, like he was the one.”
But, despite this, Ragland said she wished she had done more to prepare her daughter for the harsh glare of the world’s media. “As a parent, in hindsight I would absolutely like to go back and have that very real conversation about how the world sees you,” she said. As Meghan began to face negative media attention, she recalled telling her daughter “this is about race,” to which Meghan replied, in her recounting: “Mommy, I don’t want to hear that.” Find out more about this story.
CNN’s Christian Edwards contributed to this newsletter.