There is a moment right at the end of Prince Harry and Meghan’s documentary when he is driving his car in Santa Barbara. Reflecting on the fact that he went there after he had “changed” and “outgrown” his previous environment, the Prince suddenly says, “This is one of the places where I think my mum was probably going to end up living. Potentially.”
This final reference to Princess Diana in the six hours of programming is left hanging as the Prince drives along the sun-dappled coast to his “home sweet home.” But it is perfectly positioned to underline one of the most prominent themes of the Netflix series—that Diana’s death (and how she died) continues to be central to how Prince Harry sees the world.
Indeed, while Meghan is clearly more at ease opening up in front of the cameras throughout the multiple interviews and behind the scenes moments, by the end it is Harry’s story that feels like the plot. Yes, this is a love story. But this is also a story about a boy born into an intensely hierarchical institution and his relationship with an older brother who was always going to have the top job. And mostly, it is a story about a boy whose mother was killed while being chased by paparazzi and the ways in which he has hated the media ever since.
It will have been no surprise to anyone that media (in its many forms and often conflated but particularly the British tabloids, their websites, and social media) was the documentary’s villain from the start. But while the couple powerfully outline their feelings towards critical stories and comments, the six episodes fail to make any new revelations about what this institution actually did.
Where they do land at least one new blow, however, is to the monarchy. And, for this reason alone, the second half of the documentary hits much harder than the first three episodes. In a move that could change how some people see this story, the couple provides a specific and pretty damning example to explain their grievances. “I was told about a joint statement that had been put out in mine and my brother’s name squashing the story about him bullying us out of the family,” Harry says. “No-one had asked me permission to put my name to a statement like that…they were happy to lie to protect my brother.” The palace has not responded to Harry’s claims about the January 2020 statement (which actually came from the Sussexes’ spokesperson at the time) and have said they won’t be commenting on the documentary at all. But this is a moment that stands out as an allegation not to be dismissed.
Elsewhere, however, Harry and Meghan offer little to back up their assertions. The Prince’s claim that stories were leaked and planted by royal communications teams “to remove a negative story about their Principal” comes and goes without much context. Some of what Harry is saying on this point seems to be referring to what he witnessed as a child with his father’s office. But he then says that he saw William’s office “copy the very same thing that we promised the two of us would never ever do” without explaining why he thinks this or what stories he believes were planted or traded.
Similarly, the theme explored in the documentary that the couple was eventually targeted by a monarchy that wanted them to fail because they stole the limelight, is presented with no evidence. This is mostly proposed by friends or other contributors—a device that somehow leaves you feeling that the couple weren’t quite prepared to say so themselves. One wonders, though, how many will sign up to the narrative that the monarchy sabotaged Harry and Meghan because Meghan’s friend Lucy Fraser thinks that “the internals at the Palace were incredibly threatened” by their popularity.
The claim that Prince William screamed and shouted at Harry during the so-called Sandringham Summit discussing their future is unpleasant but perhaps not entirely revealing given the heated feelings on all sides at the time. And Harry’s suggestion that his father said things that were not true in the same meeting is largely meaningless in the absence of further explanation.
There is no getting away from the fact that the whole program is a carefully curated presentation of how Harry and Meghan want to be seen. But there are a few moments in the second half where it feels like we get closer to witnessing their authentic reactions. These include Meghan waiting to find out the final result of her legal battle with the Mail on Sunday and Harry reading a text from his brother after the Oprah interview (but of course we don’t get to see what it says). You’d be hard-pushed to argue with Meghan’s assertion that “a family and a family business are in direct conflict” when Harry was blocked from seeing his grandmother to discuss their plans. Elsewhere, she succinctly shoots down criticism that she was to blame for the Prince leaving, pointing out, “He wouldn’t have ever been attracted to me if he wasn’t already on his own path.”
There is a brief appearance from Princess Eugenie in the documentary, but the emphasis by the end of the six hours is that Harry’s new path has seen him shed so much of his old life. He describes having “lost a few friends” in the process and it is obvious that the passage of time has not been a healer for his relationships with his father and brother.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the overwhelming response to the Netflix venture in the UK media, particularly the print media, has been negative. Accusations of attacking the Queen’s legacy have been front page news alongside the ongoing debates about cashing in, parading themselves as victims and invading their own privacy. Globally, it’s fair to say reviews have been mixed.
But this venture has given them a huge platform to tell their side of the story, and it is possible that there may be people who now feel they understand their perspective a little better because of it.
Meghan has the last word in the series with a poem she read on their wedding day ending with the line, “above all, love wins.” But the final footage is mostly of Harry. He is on a beach in shorts and T-shirt walking away from the camera with a towel under his arm. We’ll never know, if she had lived, whether or not Princess Diana would have moved to California. But if this docuseries leaves you certain of one thing, it is just how central her influence continues to be on the life of her son who now calls it home.
Town & Country Contributing Editor Victoria Murphy has reported on the British Royal Family since 2010. She has interviewed Prince Harry and has traveled the world covering several royal tours. She was the Daily Mirror‘s Royal Correspondent and is a frequent contributor to Good Morning America.