It has been two years, three months, and four days since September 2, 2020—a date many don’t remember as being particularly culturally significant, but the results of which certainly stand to be: that Wednesday, it was announced that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, had inked a reportedly $150 million deal with Netflix to produce content for the streaming service. The first such piece, the Liz-Garbus directed Harry & Meghan, will drop in two parts—the first this Thursday, December 8, three months to the day after Her late Majesty’s death; the second, Thursday, December 15, which unfortunately clashes with the far more saccharine Christmas carol concert hosted by the new Princess of Wales. (Coincidentally—or not—Netflix released the teaser for the show on Thursday, December 1, as the Prince and Princess of Wales undertook their first U.S. tour in eight years and their first overseas visit since the Queen’s death. The trailer was summarily released on Monday, December 5, which, for a change, didn’t overlap with anything noteworthy in the royal universe.)
“The [teaser] alone—released just as William and Kate set foot in the U.S.—is enough to send chills up the spine of every working member of the royal family,” longtime royal biographer (opens in new tab) Christopher Andersen tells Marie Claire exclusively. “Coinciding with new charges of racism within the royal family, the upcoming documentary clearly constitutes a one-two gut punch to the new king.” (When we spoke to Andersen, the trailer had not yet been released, but suffice to say it is a one-two-three gut punch.)
Royal expert and founder of To Di for Daily Kinsey Schofield tells Marie Claire exclusively that Netflix wasn’t the first to pitch producing exclusive content to the Sussexes: “After some rather bizarre pitches from Quibi and even some positive brainstorming with Amazon, the couple decided to go big with Netflix to spotlight their favorite causes, shape their brand, and pay for their new pursuits in America,” she says. (The couple also inked deals with Spotify, which birthed Meghan’s “Archetypes” podcast, and Penguin Random House, publisher of Harry’s forthcoming Spare.) Sit down tell-alls were not new fodder for the couple—one word: Oprah—and, Schofield says, Harry even told Oprah that streaming was “a last resort to support his growing family.” But, says Schofield, this was only half true.
“Meghan is incredibly media savvy, having studied and admired many women in the entertainment business before her, some who she recently interviewed for her own podcast,” she says. “It was Meghan that recognized the value in creating content that could reshape public perception of the pair. Harry was on board once they were told by close friends of Princess Diana that Diana was looking to develop documentaries around some of her philanthropic interests towards the end of her life.”
The docuseries’ original director, Garrett Bradley, was eventually replaced by Liz Garbus, who has also directed films like 2012’s Love, Marilyn (about the late actress’ writings), 2015’s What Happened, Miss Simone? about iconic singer Nina Simone, and 2020’s Ariana Grande concert film Excuse Me, I Love You. Though Garbus ultimately took the project across the finish line, Meghan suggested in a recent Variety interview that she had mixed feelings about the end product, telling the outlet “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. But that’s not why we’re telling it. We’re trusting our story to someone else, and that means it will go through their lens.”
“From what I’m being told, the Sussexes are a bit disappointed with the final product,” Schofield says. “Their feedback was always welcome, but they ultimately did not have complete creative control and Netflix was really excited about the product that Liz Garbus delivered. Netflix did not want to continue to tweak it. This is not a critical observation, but I believe that Meghan is a perfectionist and has a clear vision of how she wants her family to be depicted. She does not have the ability to execute the project herself from start to finish, which results in creative clashes.”
The teaser and the trailer—with snippets quoted far and wide like “I had to do everything I could to protect my family” (Harry), “I realized ‘they’re never going to protect you’” (Meghan), and “No one knows the full truth. We know the full truth” (Harry)—are but two minutes of a six-part series. There are tears—multiple times. There are accusations (from Harry) of leaking and planting of stories, what he calls “a dirty game.” There are multiple cutaways to his mother, Diana, who died while being chased by paparazzi in a Paris tunnel, with her younger son lamenting “I was terrified. I didn’t want history to repeat itself,” alluding to the same happening to his wife.
“The Sussexes feel like the docuseries leans too much into the drama and victimhood—more than they had anticipated,” Schofield says. “Today, Meghan wants to be seen as a thought leader and a changemaker, and they want to put the past behind them. I also think that they recognize that the public wants to move on, too.”
But first, this: “It’s clear from what I’ve seen in the Netflix documentary that Harry and Meghan are throwing down the gauntlet, big time,” Andersen says. “Even the teaser is in-your-face confrontational. It’s amazing how much provocation you can pack into a single minute.” Remember when we thought season five of The Crown would be the worst part of the fall for King Charles? Now, Andersen says, “suddenly having to manage the fallout from the Hussey affair and the potentially explosive documentary, Charles’ advisors are most certainly tearing out what little hair they have left.”
Schofield says the couple were keen to set boundaries—they were against filming in their home, she says—and tried to not dwell on the negative. “Ultimately, the final project is not necessarily a love letter to their causes, and it is not the vehicle that they were looking for to set the record straight,” she says. “Thankfully, Liz Garbus is really talented, and if you’re a fan of the Sussexes, you will enjoy the docuseries. If you’re not a fan or you’re undecided, I don’t think it will sway you.”
Schofield says to expect celebrity cameos, laughter, and PDA (plus—Harry apparently plays the guitar?!): “Harry and Meghan were strategic in the representation of their relationship,” she says. “It is important to Meghan that the world know that they are in love.” (Yeah—we picked up on that already, actually.)
“The couple does have an underlying defiance and an 'us against the world' attitude—something that I don’t think will be appreciated by monarchists still mourning the Queen,” Schofield says. “Despite the fact that we are all aware that the footage was shot prior to the Queen’s death, I do think it could still cause some hurt.”
Post-December 15 and all of the cards of the docuseries out on the table, where do we go from here? “Given what lies ahead, it’s hard to imagine ever healing the rift between Harry and Meghan on one side and the rest of the royal family on the other,” Andersen says. “If anything, it’s widening. I am confident, however, that the Sussexes will attend the coronation in May. They have no intention of being shoved out of the picture at such momentous moments in history. But the bruised feelings and simmering resentments will be there, just as they were at the Queen’s funeral.”
Rachel Burchfield is a writer whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family. In addition to serving as the royal editor at Marie Claire, she has worked with publications like Vogue, Vanity Fair, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, and more. She cohosts Podcast Royal, a show that provides candid commentary on the biggest royal family headlines and offers segments on fashion, beauty, health and wellness, and lifestyle.
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