All through the day / I me mine, I me mine, I me mine – George Harrison
Harry & Meghan, the new docu-series on the young renegade royal couple, Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle, was released by Netflix worldwide last Thursday. Three episodes have been put out at the first time of asking, with a promise of three more to be aired on December 15. As all of us know only too well, anything to do with the British royal family has always attracted plenty of vicarious attention around the globe, barring a dystopian World War III. We have just finished devouring Netflix’s Season 5 of The Crown, a series that generated a phenomenal viewership for reasons not far to seek. It is one thing to produce a film or television series about historical figures long dead and gone, but quite another to portray royal personages very much alive and kicking, at least a handful of them. The travails of the late Princess Diana and her fractious relationship with the royal family of Windsor have been well documented, and to actually see them on screen, portrayed realistically by actors taking the narrative right up to the present day, would have been extremely unnerving for the late Queen Elizabeth II and the current occupier of the throne, King Charles III.
Purely as an example of authentic story-telling on the small screen for home viewing, The Crown was a runaway success, sumptuously produced and splendidly acted in a realistic and understated fashion. I wish I could say the same for Harry & Meghan which, on the evidence of the first three episodes appears to be a ham-fisted effort on the part of the two protagonists, to tell their side of a sordid story. Narrated in the first person, Harry and Meghan talk straight into the camera about the extreme privations they have had to endure from a rapacious paparazzi (paps, in Meghan’s lingo) as well as Harry’s royal relatives at Buckingham Palace. They portray themselves as being under siege, as victims of a cruel fate and a hidebound family that refuses to understand how the world has changed and how the family of Windsor have cocooned themselves in an archaic mindset that will not accept, on their watch, a fifth-in-line prince to marry a coloured girl from the glitz and glamour world of Hollywood. As one reviewer described it, ‘it’s a love letter to themselves.’
Harry & Meghan employs a combination of professional camera work with plenty of home video, candid shots of Harry, Meghan, their offspring and pet Beagle, some of them presumably selfies. Just an ordinary, everyday couple enjoying their domesticity. Close friends and Meghan’s mother punctuate the film with flattering comments. The grapevine tells us that the high-profile twosome has been paid an enormous sum of money to come out with this television series, which is hardly surprising. Millions around the world would have been only too eager to see what these two had to convey in their ‘tell all’ tale. Even after denuding their bank balance of a pretty hefty sum, Netflix would have been comfortably in the black with the humongous viewership this series is currently generating. Everyone concerned would be laughing all the way to the bank.
It is therefore, extremely disappointing that even at the level of assessing this televisual effort as a potentially racy, gossipy revelatory piece of cinéma vérité, the net result is dreadfully boring. The first three episodes plod along at a desultory pace, and after a point, it gets repetitive and does not even provide a lowly pleasure of schadenfreude. I am taking the risk of putting out this ‘review’ even before the next three episodes are scheduled to air, and that is primarily because I do not expect them to be any different from what we have just witnessed. The next tranche could well contain more revelations and gripes and further evidence of the martyr syndrome that Harry and Meghan appear to have fallen prey to, but that will not be reason enough to invest three more hours in the false hopes of unexpected gasps of pleasurable surprise. Going by what I have just seen, the viewer is being wooed to see things from the young couple’s point of view, and I am afraid the wooing is simply not seducing. If anything, they inadvertently succeed in pushing our sympathies towards Harry’s royal family, doubtless uneasily squirming in their plush sofas at Buckingham Palace. Queen Elizabeth II, still warm in her grave, could be turning uncomfortably.
Furthermore, for a camera-shy couple that apparently shuns intrusions by the ‘paps,’ a situation that allegedly contributed to the tragic demise of Princess Diana in a Paris underpass (the driver of their Merc being allegedly inebriated did not help), Harry and Meghan seem quite happy to engage professional cameramen to capture their every intimate moment at home or on an African safari. If you can work that out, you are a better man than I am, Gunga Din.
I am not venturing into the whys and wherefores, the rights and wrongs of Harry and Meghan deciding to bare their soiled linen to a gleefully waiting world. That is their business and if they are getting richer by the fistfuls as a result, fair play to them. My limited point is that the television series appears to have been put together in an unseemly haste to catch the Christmas / New Year jollifications and perhaps to stave off competition arriving with similar stories, and as a result, does not provide a level of involved viewing that one expects from documentary film-making dealing with the high, mighty and glamorous. Who knows, perhaps the next three episodes will be a thrill-a-minute joy ride and I may have to eat my words. What is more, there are enough people in India and the rest of the world who will watch, agog, anything that has pretty much anything at all to do with the British royals. If that crowd violently disagrees with my somewhat peremptory views on this tame effort, so be it.
Rest assured. Notwithstanding anything I might have said, I shall avidly await the next instalment with bated breath. And no, I shan’t be risking writing another ‘review.’ Suffice it to say that Harry & Meghan at best, is self-serving and at worst, narcissistic.
Published in the Deccan Chronicle dated 11/12/2022.