So Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are making a movie. Does anyone care?

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Their transition from royals to celebrity-seeking ‘multi-hyphenates’ is like something from ‘Black Mirror’ – and won’t help them stay relevant 

February 2, 2024 1:36 pm(Updated 2:23 pm)

What a strange place the Duke and Duchess of Sussex occupy in our culture. They are some of the most famous faces in the world, yet since they formally left the royal family in 2020, their identity as a couple has become difficult to define.

Fundamentally British yet increasingly harbouring hyper-American values; tied by reputation to a buttoned-up, public-serving institution yet highly individualistic; not wanting attention yet trying to maintain relevance; going through terrible trauma at the hands of the press and public and at the same time upholding an incredible privilege.

It’s no wonder they are so divisive – and also no wonder that they are trying extremely hard to carve out a “brand” while also languishing in the vagaries that by definition protect them from some strains of ire.

Prince Harry at the wheelchair basketball final in the Invictus Games last year (Photo: Aaron Chown/PA)
Prince Harry at the wheelchair basketball final at the Invictus Games last year (Photo: Aaron Chown/PA)

After their famed Spotify deal collapsed last year, the couple have turned their attention to Netflix, with whom they brokered a $100m (£79m) deal four years ago and with whom they have already released three documentary programmes (Harry & Meghan (2022), Live to Lead (2022) and Heart of Invictus (2023)).

Following the departure of multiple executives from their production company, Archewell, there was speculation that the deal was going the same way as Spotify’s – but at a preview event for Netflix’s 2024 content, it was revealed that Harry and Meghan have several projects on the way: a scripted series, an unscripted series and a movie, which could be a film adaptation of Meet Me at the Lake, a 2023 romance novel that they bought the rights to last year. But the perpetual question remains: what are Harry and Meghan trying to achieve, and is anyone actually paying attention?

The idea of a royal-prince-turned-reality-TV-star-multihyphenate feels a little like something out of Black Mirror – but Harry’s conversion to celebrity, as opposed to loyal public servant, is necessary if the couple are to maintain relevance and “make a difference”.

Their thoroughly modern love story – famous actress, divorced, meets troubled prince, bachelor, uses her big American feelings to help him open up, they have a £32m wedding, cut off the paternal family and flee to a mansion in Canada to live their truth – is unfortunately not enough to sustain a career in an extremely fast-moving culture, where other stories will soon trump it.

The Netflix film 'Harry & Meghan' was a supposedly candid picture of the couple's life together (Photo: Duke and Duchess of Sussex/Netflix)
The Netflix film ‘Harry & Meghan’ was a supposedly candid picture of the couple’s life together (Photo: Duke and Duchess of Sussex/Netflix)

And clearly Harry and Meghan have something to say. Their aim at Netflix is reportedly to deliver “inspirational family programming” and “powerful storytelling through a truthful and relatable lens” – inspiration, truthfulness and relatability being the three tenets on which their reputation purportedly rests and, coincidentally, probably the three defining values of the social media age.

In their work so far they have fulfilled all of them: in their 2022 documentary Harry & Meghan they were shown as inspirational in their overcoming all odds to find an authentic life, and both truthful and relatable in their supposedly candid depictions of their home life (warm and airy) and feelings (difficult and unwieldy). In Live to Lead they followed the stories of seven social justice leaders including Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Greta Thunberg, and in Heart of Invictus Harry platformed disabled veterans involved with his charity the Invictus Games.

The three shows embodied these values, which are very different from those baked into British society and the monarchy. Keeping a stiff upper lip and prioritising duty over desire are altogether more traditional standards to live by; we Britons have a propensity to frown on excess and indulgence, both of which seem to unwittingly exude from Meghan.

All of which leads me to think that Harry and Meghan’s plan is to differentiate themselves from the royals as much as possible. They have succeeded there. But the problem is that so far, they haven’t distinguished themselves sufficiently from the other celebrities, podcasters and producers who don’t have any kind of reputation to uphold and can therefore produce work that feels genuine and organic, not like purpose-built self-promotion. And so it seems that whether it’s a movie, series or another podcast, Harry and Meghan’s cries may continue to fall on deaf ears.

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