Unpacking the Issues With Harry & Meghan

Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle telling their side of the story in a six-part Netflix docuseries had its moments but didn't move the needle at all.

By Natalie Finn Dec 17, 2022 1:00 PMTags
Watch: Prince Harry Recounts William SCREAMING at Him Over Royal Exit

Almost three years after Prince Harry and Meghan Markle made the unprecedented move of trying to live independently from the monarchy but still work in service of the queen—and then were subsequently informed that wasn't an option—the couple finally aired their side of the story.

Which, for the most part, unfolded as you expected it might.

Over the course of their six-part Netflix docuseries, Harry & Meghan, the now California-based pair painted a picture of an inspiring, meant-to-be love match that had all the makings of a modern fairy tale—until it ran headlong into a ruthless press machine that the royal family took pains to placate rather than fight on the couple's behalf.

Or, as Harry in no uncertain terms contends in the series, even sided with from time to time. 

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A title card included in Harry & Meghan stated that members of the royal family declined to comment on any content in the series. E! News reached out to Buckingham Palace and Kensington Palace regarding various claims made in the series, but they have released no statements and none are forthcoming.

Last week a senior royal source told NBC News that neither Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace nor any members of the royal family were approached for comment, while a KP source said that their office did get an email purporting to be from a third-party production company but didn't recognize the address. When KP tried to confirm the validity of the message with Harry and Meghan's Archewell Productions and Netflix, they didn't get a response, the source said. (Archewell is one of three production companies behind the series.)

A Netflix source told E! News that communications teams for both King Charles III and Prince William were contacted ahead of the series' release.

But all of the above have unsurprisingly exercised their right to remain silent.

Tim Rooke/Shutterstock

Buckingham Palace, which represents the monarch, usually reserves its on-the-record statements for happy events, such as births and engagements, or public words of condolence, civic support, etc., and considers requests for comment on a case by case basis.

Dating back to forever, the queen usually refrained from commenting on a news story or controversy unless it was felt to be absolutely necessary. Recent all-hands moments include her response to Harry and Meghan's Jan. 8, 2020, announcement that they were stepping back ("These are complex matters for my family to resolve") and the couple's March 2021 interview with Oprah Winfrey, when the couple charged that some of the racism they faced had come from inside the Firm("While some recollections may vary, they are taken very seriously").

Incidentally, another title card also noted that Harry and Meghan's interviews were completed by August 2022, meaning everything they said came before the death of Queen Elizabeth II on Sept. 8.

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Considering what the last few years have been like, it was indeed major news when Harry and Meghan—who are still the Duke and Duchess of Sussex—joined Prince William and Kate Middleton outside Windsor Castle to greet mourners. And in his first address as king, Charles said in the course of talking about his family, "I want also to express my love for Harry and Meghan as they continue to build their lives overseas."

James Whatling / MEGA

The first three episodes of Harry & Meghan, released Dec. 8, are mainly dedicated to the premarital days of their courtship, old news made new by a heartwarming, if immaculately curated, array of never-before-seen photos and videos.

"H" and "M" (which is apparently what they call each other, discuss) were set up by a mutual friend in the summer of 2016 while Meghan was in London to go to Wimbledon. Instead of their meet-cute being ruined by Harry showing up 30 minutes late, his flustered embarrassment at being caught in traffic only charmed the Suits star. 

After one more dinner, their third date was a campout in Botswana and the rest is well-trod history. While some of Harry & Meghan could be mistaken for a romantic travelogue, even the happiest moments are shadowed by the promise of what's to come, the frequent nods to the crush of paparazzi Harry's mother, Princess Diana, faced at every turn until it literally killed her not exactly subtle.

Courtesy of Prince Harry and Meghan, The Duke and Duchess of Sussex; Netflix

And after all the foreshadowing throughout the first half—which, according to Netflix, was viewed for 81.55 million hours around the globe during its first week out, a record opening for a docuseries on the streamer—the gloves were fully off in the final three episodes, which dropped Dec. 15, as Harry and Meghan described being bullied by the press and hung out to dry by his family.

Meghan was not just "thrown to the wolves," she said, referring to the way her in-laws seemingly stood by while a never-ending onslaught of headlines painted her, even when she was pregnant, as alternately manipulative, demanding or narcissistic. "I was being fed to the wolves."

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Before a minute of this show streamed, we already knew that the British tabloids were ruder to Meghan than they were to Kate in many ways (though Kate did have her time in the barrel before she married William); that some of the coverage of Harry's wife ranged from subtly racist to blatantly racist (a charge the alleged offenders have always adamantly denied); and that Harry, though he played the game as a working royal, has always had great contempt for the media. (The scene where Meghan asks him what qualifies someone to be a "royal expert" is a pip.)  

But the series also alleges that the royal family—be it because they felt threatened by Meghan's global popularity, as Harry speculates, or were just too entrenched in a decades-old, give-and-take arrangement with the media to dare rock the boat—not only told Meghan that she needed to suck it up because there was nothing they could do, but also that press officers working for other members of the family were concertedly working against the couple.

Not always, but eventually.

Phil Harris - WPA Pool/Getty Images

For instance, Harry said in the series that he had nothing to do with a Jan. 13, 2020, statement slamming a story in the U.K.'s Times after the paper reported that William's "bullying attitude" toward Meghan was part of why the Sussexes were stepping away from the family.

The statement, presented as a rare joint comment from the brothers, said the story was false and called the Times' language "offensive and potentially harmful."

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Harry said he was never asked for his permission to put his name on the statement. He didn't then say that the story was actually true, but the anecdote was offered as an example of how the palace machine would fall in line to protect his brother, the future king, after one story but offered he and Meghan no such protection following years of abuse.

Meghan pointed to her decision to take the Mail on Sunday and Mail Online to court for publishing excerpts of a letter she sent to her estranged father, Thomas Markle, as "the catalyst for probably all of the unraveling"—despite the queen and Charles suggesting she write the letter in the first place, she said.

"From their perspective," Harry said of his family, "they had to believe that it was more about us and maybe the issues that we had, as opposed to their partner—the media—and themselves, and that relationship that was causing so much pain for us. They saw what they wanted to see."

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And so the explosive recollections poured forth.

"I'm not going to say that it's comfortable," Meghan says on the show of putting this all out there. "But when you feel like people haven't gotten any sense of who you are for so long, it's really nice to just be able to have the opportunity to let people have a bit more of a glimpse into what's happened and also who we are."

Not that we didn't learn anything new (Tyler Perry is Lili Diana's godfather!), but Harry & Meghan basically expanded upon what the couple already shared with Oprah, catnip for royal tea enthusiasts to obsess over, critics of the couple to ridicule and fans of theirs to... take in stride, because they already knew they were on H&M's side.


Moreover, no one from the media who spent years banging the anti-Meghan drum was going to be chastened by this series. Rather, their heels are only dug in further, now with new fuel for their still-raging fire, as any glance at the coverage of Harry & Meghan by certain outlets will show.

The claws were out before the series even premiered, one of the trailers prompting backlash when it was quickly noticed that some of the footage used to illustrate how intrusive the media could be had nothing to do with Harry and Meghan

"If the media is a big villain in this, which it seems that they will be," ABC News royals contributor Virginia Murphy observed on Good Morning America Dec. 6, "then I think we are going to see pushback if people feel there's been unfair representation."


Naysayers also charged Harry and Meghan with hypocrisy, accusing them of quitting the Firm while complaining about their privacy being violated and then flinging their doors and diaries open to a six-hour series, whittled down from who knows how many hours of footage.

The couple's global press secretary called B.S. on that version of events, telling E! News in a statement Dec. 9 that the "Duke and Duchess have never cited privacy as the reason for stepping back. This distorted narrative was intended to trap the couple into silence. In fact, their statement announcing their decision to step back mentions nothing of privacy and reiterates their desire to continue their roles and public duties. Any suggestion otherwise speaks to a key point of this series." 

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And, just as more hackles were up than usual when the most salacious season yet of The Crown premiered in November, so too did critics of this whole endeavor voice their distaste that Harry & Meghan was coming out only three months (to the day, incidentally) after the queen's death.

Though any time after the queen's death—or before, for that matter—would have been the wrong time for the haters.

But in addition to it being the end of a 70-year era, most of the U.K. having said goodbye to the only monarch they'd ever known in September, the sad occasion had provided a fleeting opportunity for William and Harry to come together, prompting hope that the messiest chapter in the brothers' complicated history was behind them.

Instead, interviews completed by August 2022 aside, that chapter has been rereleased in a new, extended edition, with footnotes.

Yet it remains a one-sided story. Because no matter how heated the debate gets over who's right and who's wrong, Harry and Meghan's real adversary in this cold war is under official orders to keep calm and carry on.

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