Whenever a close-knit group breaks up, there are always multiple sides of the story from everyone who watched it transpire. In the ‘90s, there seemed to be no closer pair than William and Harry, the sons of the current king of England. After the tragic death of their mother, Princess Diana, it seemed like there was nothing that could come between the brothers. In the time that has passed, it appears that a chasm has broken between the two, a valley so deep that no bridge can be built to cross it. What could possibly separate this pair of close brothers? The new Netflix series, “Harry & Meghan,” tells the story from the perspective of Harry and his wife, American actress Meghan Markle. If you believe the headlines splashed across British tabloids, this is nothing more than the tale of brothers split apart by a woman. This begs the question, is Meghan the Yoko Ono of the royal family?
One factor that complicates this simple brother versus brother tale is that William and Harry are members of the British royal family. In the Netflix series, Harry refers to the offices of the royals as “The Institution.” He describes a secretive, malignant force that publishes carefully curated reports about the royals, often pitting them against each other by trading salacious stories to the press.
For American readers, the British tabloids are far more extreme than the papers found across the pond. While gossipy news stories may appear over here, British tabloids are more of a gut punch to the subject of their stories, often hitting below the belt. In “Harry & Meghan,” Harry infers that his brother’s office was part of this devious trading of tales. According to Harry, William’s office would exchange stories about Harry and Meghan to get more favorable headlines for him and his own family. It would be hard to forgive someone after that sort of act.
Harry and Meghan insist that “The Institution” crafted a narrative presenting Meghan as a tyrant who came stomping through the posh and quiet royal lifestyle that is so popular in Britain. How popular? In the series, members of the crown are referred to as “symbols of Britain.” During an interview with Robert Hazell, a monarchy author, he describes the monarchy’s popularity rating as an astronomical 70-80%. Due to the overwhelming scrutiny in the British press — whose racist rhetoric was buoyed up by the crown itself — Harry and Meghan resigned from being working royals. Afterward, they found a safe haven in North America, where it would appear that they live out the charming life they initially chased. Is the American divorcee really the villain in this story?
Picture the following tale: Once upon a time, there were two brothers, both princes of England. These brothers were next down the line of a very powerful queen, a symbol of the British empire. One brother meets a divorced American socialite, and the country descends into chaos. Choosing love over power, the brother leaves behind his duties to the crown. The other brother is left to pick up the responsibilities, and commits himself to the country. However, the relationship with his brother is irreparably broken.
Sound familiar? That’s because it has already happened before. In 1936, Edward VIII, great-grandson of Queen Victoria, ascended to the British throne and proposed to his fiance, Wallis Simpson. Simpson had already divorced her first husband and was in the process of divorcing her second. His proposal sent the British government into a tailspin, and it became clear that choosing Simpson would cause a constitutional crisis in England. Only 326 days into his reign, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne and passed the crown to his brother, George. This was William and Harry’s great-grandfather.
Harry is not heir to the throne, so his choice to leave behind the royals has far less impact than that of his great-great uncle (who was not a great-great person, as it turned out). Harry and Meghan’s exodus from royal life was a move that granted them reprieve. But watching “Harry & Meghan” might leave you wondering if that’s really the truth. Sure, they have celebrity friends who call in to check on them, but watching for clues will make you wonder if they have friends at all. It appears that they have cut ties with most of the people in their lives. They do have a lovely house, adorable children and care deeply for each other. Behind the facade, it would appear that the couple lives a solitary life.
Harry speaks of his love for his country and how, despite being literal royalty, his family is actually very close. Meghan’s niece tells a story about how she and Meghan were extremely close until her mother, Meghan’s half-sister, lied to the press about Meghan. As a result, she was uninvited from the royal wedding. This happened so as not to stir up questions about why her mother wasn’t invited but she was. The heartbreak in her niece’s voice is palpable. How does one get over that?
So why now? Why would Harry and Meghan release their story at this time? It all has to do with controlling the narrative. Meghan opens the series by remarking on how the news prints their story wrong, so why not hear it from the source? And that’s just what it is: their one side of a very complicated, but not unfamiliar tale of family drama. This series comes full of out-of-pocket relatives, brother-against-brother tension and racist older generations. Their story just happens to include the British crown. Harry and Meghan aren’t untrustworthy, and their account is a wonderful love story. It’s beautiful propaganda, but propaganda all the same.
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