Editor’s note: Dr. Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist, documentary producer and author, including two books on gender and family and the forthcoming “Mean,” a book about women who misbehave, to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2024. Her latest film, “King Coal ,” will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2023. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. Check out more opinion on CNN.
When Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced in early 2020 that they were stepping down from their roles as “senior” royals, effectively quitting the royal family, they heralded a culture of familial tension, relentless scrutiny and a certain amount of misogyny. They no longer wanted to be hounded by the media, obsessed with, watched. Harry didn’t want to be constantly reminded of his mother’s tragic death every time he and Meghan were photographed; Meghan didn’t want to be tabloid fodder for what she wore, how she did her hair, where she was from or how much she did or enjoyed the limelight. They wanted to achieve financial independence, live as normal people, raise their children in private.
And yet, here they are, starring in — actually co-producing — “Harry & Meghan,” a new six-part docu-series whose first three episodes aired this week, chronicling their lives with never-before-seen insights into the couple’s “personal archives.” comments from close friends and family members speaking out for the first time, and plenty of direct access to Harry and Meghan themselves in interviews conducted over the past few years. The series opens with Harry and Meghan’s exclusive self-polished video diaries from 2020 – the first hint that perhaps they never really intended to keep their private lives private after all.
Indeed, what we learn from “Harry & Meghan” is that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are less interested in staying out of the limelight than in having full control over how the limelight makes them look. But, well, that’s just not how celebrity works.
Which is just one reason why ‘Harry & Meghan’ is a royal disappointment. The couple left the family because they didn’t want the attention. But, very clearly, what they didn’t want was the negative attention, or any criticism – a very primitive (and ironically, very royal) attitude. In life – in real life – there is no good without the bad. The production is therefore an effort not to expose in an honest and genuine way, to show the “full truth” that “no one knows” – as Harry says in the first minutes of the film – but to drum up self-pity. . In fact, when asked why she wanted to make this documentary, Meghan says, “When you feel like people haven’t gotten a sense of who you are for so long, it’s really nice to be able to just have the opportunity to let people to have a little more insight into what has happened and also who we are.”
But who’s to say people haven’t had a glimpse of who they are? What makes their version – a heavily produced, edited and controlled version – more honest than any version of their lives that has come before? It’s striking how much a filtered version of events works in the series as their version of reality. Meghan recalls how when she first connected with Harry, she wanted to review his Instagram feed as a way to get to know him, and social media posts are a significant part of the archive that brings their story together.
Harry and Meghan’s fatal flaw – both the couple and the film – is thinking they can control how others see them. None of us can. And that the couple keep trying, despite also asking to be left alone, reflects a childish and unfair attitude that viewers will pick up on, especially against the documentary’s attempt to portray them as “more grounded” than the rest of the film . royal family In reality, they are perhaps the most out of touch of them all.
Equally disappointing is the content of the series, which is much of the same stuff we’ve already seen or heard. There are a few new elements—friends who have never spoken, photos we’ve never seen—but otherwise there’s little that delivers and little that changes people’s opinions about them. It’s self-promotional, self-aggrandizing, and frankly a little boring. They don’t come across as more likable, and in fact, maybe a lot less. Interestingly, it’s perhaps the first time that much of the backlash has been directed at Harry, rather than Meghan.
Where the public may have seen him as the unfortunate victim of a cunning attention-seeker, or suffer from “repetition compulsion” as he repeats in adulthood a scenario he knows from growing up, the son of Princess Diana, the audience will now surely have less sympathy. With “Harry & Meghan,” it’s clear he’s being deliberately chosen to see what he wants to see.
Indeed, if “Harry & Meghan” is a ploy to get people to be genuinely indifferent to their comings and goings, well, that’s the one area where it might have succeeded. “I just really want to get to the other side of it all,” Meghan tells the camera in the opening minutes of the first episode. With “Harry & Meghan,” she may finally get her wish.