Netflix has released the first three episodes of a controversial documentary about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, which has raised more questions about racism in the Royal Family and caused a media frenzy in Britain.
The six-part documentary, titled Harry & Meghan, had been widely anticipated in Britain and there has been much media speculation about how far the Duke and Duchess would go in criticizing the Royal Family, especially in the wake of the death of Queen Elizabeth in September.
Thursday’s release of the first episodes – at 8 a.m. U.K. time – prompted live coverage by most major media outlets and by noon the Daily Mail had 15 stories about the program on its website. Even the BBC had a live blog with blow-by-blow commentary as reporters pored over each episode. The Sun called the series the “mega show” while the Daily Mirror labelled it a “royal bombshell.”
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle stepped away from royal duties in 2020 to chart their own careers and move to Los Angeles, Ms. Markle’s hometown. A few months later, they signed a multiyear deal with Netflix Inc. and Spotify reportedly worth more than US$100-million.
Promotional snippets for the documentary released earlier this week promised a behind-the-scenes look at palace life and in one clip Prince Harry said, “No one knows the full truth. We know the full truth.”
The documentary opened with two disclaimers. The first said that all of the interviews “were completed by August, 2022,″ which likely was a reference to the Queen’s death. Another noted that “members of the Royal Family declined to comment on the content of this series.”
The couple set the tone in the opening frames when they were asked why they wanted to make the series. “This is about duty and service, and I feel as though, being part of this family, it is my duty to uncover this exploitation and bribery that happens within our media,” Prince Harry said.
Ms. Markle added, “I just really want to get to the other side of all of this.”
Most of the first episodes explored Prince Harry and Ms. Markle’s early life and covered how they met. Prince Harry said he was shown glimpses of Ms. Markle on Instagram and contacted her through a mutual friend. She was living in Toronto at the time filming a television series called Suits. They met secretly for months in Toronto and London before finally announcing their engagement in 2017. The third episode ended with their wedding at Windsor Castle in 2018.
In the documentary, Ms. Markle said she knew nothing about the Royal Family and she had to look up the words to the British national anthem on Google.
She also recalled meeting the Queen for the first time. She and Prince Harry “were in the car and we were going to Royal Lodge for lunch, and he’s like, ‘Oh, my grandmother’s here, we’re going to meet her after church,’” she said. “And I remember we were in the car driving up and he’s like, ‘You know how to curtsy, right?’ And I just thought it was a joke.”
The formality of the royal court was akin to a “Medieval Times dinner and tournament,” she added. And after meeting the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Ms. Markle recalled, “I was a hugger. I’ve always been a hugger. I didn’t realize that that is really jarring for a lot of Brits. I guess I started to understand very quickly that the formality on the outside carried through on the inside.”
In the program, Prince Harry spoke at length about the media treatment of Ms. Markle, who comes from a mixed-race family. He said it resembled the scrutiny faced by his mother, Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in 1997 while being followed by photographers. “To see another woman in my life go through this feeding frenzy, that’s hard. It is really the hunter versus the prey,” he said.
He added that other members of his family were not supportive and didn’t understand the racism Ms. Markle faced. “So it was almost like a rite of passage, and some of the members of the family were like: ‘My wife had to go through that, so why should your girlfriend be treated any differently?’ ” he said. “I said: ‘The difference here is the race element.’ ” He added that there was a “huge level” of unconscious bias within the Royal Family.
The documentary flashed images of newspaper headlines from when the couple met, including one from the Daily Mail that read, “Harry’s girl is (almost) straight outta Compton.”
“It was horrible,” Ms. Markle said of the media coverage. “But I continued to hold the line. Say nothing.” She said her race only became an issue in her life when she went to the U.K.
Ms. Markle’s mother, Doria Ragland, also spoke about the intense media coverage she has experienced. “I felt unsafe, a lot. I can’t just go walk my dogs,” she said. “There was always someone waiting for me, following me to work. I was being stalked by the paparazzi.”
Buckingham Palace has not commented on the series. Palace sources have told British media that no one in the Royal Family was approached for comment while the documentary was being made.
The remainder of the series is scheduled to be released on Dec. 15.