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Prince Harry and Meghan in Netflix documentary seek to control their story

Prince Harry and Meghan provided some of the photos and video footage for the Netflix documentary. ( /Netflix via AP)
7 min

LONDON — Prince Harry and Meghan’s attempt to seize control of the narrative of their rift with the House of Windsor — and to profit from the same — is sparking strong emotion in Britain with the release of a docuseries about the couple’s well-documented ups and downs.

At one point during the six-episode Netflix program, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, looks at the camera and asks: “Doesn’t it make more sense to hear our story from us?”

Some royal watchers here might say no, not really.

In contrast to the United States, where the couple who quit their royal jobs and took refuge in California are looked upon somewhat warmly, members of the British public view the Sussexes with more hurt, more suspicion.

Prince Harry and Meghan were honored with the Ripple of Hope Award in New York on Dec. 6, days before a Netflix documentary about them is released. (Video: Reuters)

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Some agree with Harry and Meghan’s take that the palace wasn’t supportive enough, that the tabloids were racist.

But especially in a winter when soaring rents and heating costs are a recurring topic of conversation, many people seem reluctant to extend much sympathy to the rebel royals — and don’t buy their argument that the Metropolitan Police should be responsible for their protection when in Britain.

That doesn’t mean people won’t watch the show, which Netflix is promoting, optimistically, as a “global event.”

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This program is part of their reported multimillion-dollar deal with Netflix. The first three episodes dropped Thursday, the last three are scheduled for release on Dec. 15.

That’s all in the run-up to the planned publication next month of Harry’s memoir, “Spare,” which he promises will be an “unflinching” account of royal life.

Harry and Meghan claim they ceded some editorial control in the making of the docuseries. “We’re trusting our story to someone else, and that means it will go through their lens,” Meghan told Variety magazine.

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But in addition to cooperating for interviews, the couple selectively granted access and provided some of the video footage. Their for-profit media company, Archewell, is listed as one of two producers.

Netflix did not answer questions from The Washington Post about whether the couple had any say in the script or editing or final cut.

Image curation efforts by the British royal family certainly aren’t new. The palace PR operation was an established influencer long before Instagram. And both of Harry’s parents, King Charles III and Princess Diana, sat for interviews with sympathetic journalists and cooperated on biographies.

Harry and Meghan have just embraced new means to tell their story. At first it was about building their social media presence. But, since they stepped down as working royals and had to give up their Sussex Royal accounts, they have turned to podcasts, alongside TV interviews — most notably with Oprah Winfrey. They have also pursued lawsuits against British tabloids.

Many themes of the docuseries are ones they’ve hit before.

In one clip, Harry talks about the “pain and suffering” of the women — including his wife and mother — who marry into his family.

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The documentary incorporates previously unseen photos, including pictures of the couple in happy times, jumping in the air, kissing at their wedding. There are also much more somber moments where Meghan appears to be upset.

The program amplifies the couple’s suggestion that media harassment and online bigotry are both to blame.

“It’s about hatred, it’s about race,” says Christopher Bouzy, whose tech company developed a tool to track Twitter hate.

He told The Post that he was interviewed for the documentary for two hours in March.

“Based on what I know on targeted campaigning, it’s important for folks to understand what this couple has gone through. It’s important to get their side of the story from them,” he said.

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Their side of the story also implicates members of the House of Windsor.

“There’s a hierarchy of the family,” Harry says at one point. “There’s leaking, but there’s also the planting of stories. It’s a dirty game.”

And if it is a dirty game, who is playing it? Harry’s brother, William, heir to the throne? Or his father, the new king?

Any thawing of relations between California-based Harry and Meghan and their kin back in Britain is not much on display.

One promotional clip ends with Harry saying: “No one knows the full truth. We know the full truth.”

On the whole, the promotional material conveys “an incredibly strong sense of victimhood,” said Valentine Low, author of “Courtiers: Intrigue, Ambition and the Power Players Behind the House of Windsor.”

“There is a reasonable debate to have” about whether the royal institution has done enough to support those who marry into it, Low said in an interview with The Post ahead of the documentary’s release. “But [Harry] loses me when he says no one knows the full truth but them, implying they have a monopoly on truth. What about those women who say they were bullied by Meghan? They have a truth, too.”

Last year, Buckingham Palace announced an investigation into bullying accusations by former palace staff.

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The documentary’s claim on truth has already been undermined by questions about some of the photos it uses. One showing a bank of photographers seems to be from a 2011 Harry Potter film premiere. Harry and Meghan met in 2016 and married two years later.

Ahead of Thursday’s release, when only the trailers had aired, reaction by tabloid journalists was defensive — and harsh.

Piers Morgan, a Sun columnist and longtime critic of Meghan whose voice can be heard in the trailer, wrote on Monday, “Another day, another nauseatingly self-serving whiny trailer from royal renegades Meghan and Harry for their upcoming Netflix trash-a-thon of their family.”

The mainstream Times of London ran a front-page headline on Tuesday that declared: “Prince Harry and Meghan have declared all-out war against the royal family.”

In the Spectator, the conservative magazine’s anonymous gossip columnist began his take of the trailers with, “Quick, nurse, pass the sick bag! The wokest couple in all the West is at it again.”

He continues, “In one glorious snippet, Harry — that embodiment of English aristocracy — bemoans how ‘there’s a hierarchy of the family.’ In the royals? Who knew!”

While some decry Harry and Meghan for trying to push their own narrative into the public realm, there is plenty of precedent.

“They have all been trying to get their stories across in one way or another since 1969,” said Low, referring to the Windsors.

That was the year that the BBC aired the fly-on-the-wall documentary, “Royal Family.” Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip had invited the cameras to showcase the private, human side of royal life. There’s footage of the queen buying ice cream and Charles whisking salad dressing, along with the monarch making small talk with President Richard M. Nixon. It was a massive hit, viewed by a global audience of more than 350 million. But the royals may not have loved the end result. It hasn’t been aired since the 1970s, reportedly at the behest of the family.

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Charles and Diana both sought to tell their side of things after their fairy-tale marriage fell apart.

Author Andrew Morton has acknowledged (and released the tapes) that the princess was the main source for his 1992 biography, “Diana: Her True Story,” which included details about how Charles’s affair fueled her eating disorder and suicide attempts. Diana also made waves in her interview with the BBC’s Martin Bashir, famously saying, “There were three of us in this marriage.”

For his part, Charles sought the help of journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, who published a much more positive version of events in “The Prince of Wales: A Biography” in 1994, alongside an accompanying documentary, in which Charles concedes he cheated on his wife, but only after the marriage was disintegrating.

In a sense, though, no one exercised greater image control than the queen, who never sat for a formal interview with a journalist in 70 years on the throne.