If you were secretly hoping that the new Lifetime movie – Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance – would be good, I’m sorry to burst your bubble. The Crown it is not.
There’s always an element of camp to Lifetime movies. The genre was basically built for it, and A Royal Romance is no exception. From Meghan insisting – in nearly every scene – that she’s an independent, strong, self-made, proud feminist/woman/boss to Harry similarly cursing the monarchy and its trappings almost every time he’s featured, I often got the sense that the writers never wanted to delve deeper into the “characters” of Harry and Meghan.
The movie starts when they’re both young. Harry is saying goodbye to his mother and then visiting Botswana with his father and brother. There’s a whole storyline about how Diana is supposed to be represented by a lioness (that Harry won’t let Charles shoot, but that’s symbolism I’d rather not delve into), which is creepy. Cut to tween Meghan at home watching the Ivory dish soap commercial and complaining to her father that she doesn’t like how it says “women” instead of “people.”
Next, it’s July 2016. Meghan is on the set of Suits, seemingly quibbling with the director over whether or not Rachel Zane would strike the type of sultry pose the director is requesting (you get the sense that the director is used to this and that Meghan’s behaviour is supposed to be annoying – and it’s a scene that will feature again later in the movie, the next time about dialogue). Meanwhile, Harry’s out and about in London partying it up, causing Charles, Will and Kate to gang up on him and tell him to find his soulmate and to grow up.
The couple is set up within the first 15 minutes of the movie, but the date falls into all the pitfalls of a rom-com. Harry concocts a scheme with his PPO to interrupt the date with “London Bridge is falling” so he doesn’t have to stick around with a dud (perhaps the writers should’ve consulted Google to find out what saying “London Bridge has fallen” would mean to a member of the Royal Family?). Meghan gives him hell for standing her up for 40 minutes. They chat until the sun rises, then Meghan goes back to Toronto. Cliché, cliché, cliché.
Cut to them deciding to go to Africa, on what we know is the camping trip that allowed the real-life Harry and Meghan the opportunity to get to know each other better. We cut back to Will and Kate at home looking bored, because this version of Will and Kate kind of hate each other? And Kate is a thinly veiled racist, apparently. Why they make Kate a villain instead of you know, people who actually came out publicly against Harry and Meghan, I’m not sure.
While they’re in Africa, they fall in love. Or do they? Once Meghan’s back in Toronto again, she tells Harry that they should break up. Harry, it turns out, is standing outside her trailer door with a bouquet. They don’t break up. They go to a Halloween party, they’re found out, and the press reveals the relationship. After Meghan and her mother are harassed by the paparazzi, Harry sends out the press release telling the media to back off. He walks straight up to her front door, mindless of the paparazzi (and nary a PPO in sight), and goes inside where Meghan lambasts him for daring to protect her (because she’s an independent, strong, self-made woman who doesn’t need protecting and how dare he). They break up again.
But before Harry can even leave the continent, Doria has forced Meghan to watch Diana’s funeral (the rationale being that “they made that poor little boy” walk behind his mother’s coffin and he couldn’t protect her; why is Meghan being a hardass for him wanting to protect her from that scrutiny?) and then she’s raced off to the airport to haul him off the plane, in a scene that’s more Ross and Rachel from FRIENDS than anything the real-life Harry and Meghan would ever attempt.
Listen. If that’s how their courtship went, I’m shocked they’re walking down the aisle less than two years after they met. It’s still not smooth sailing for them, after all that. Harry’s aristocrat friends are openly racist to Meghan, causing another crisis of conscience for her. She flies over to attend Pippa’s wedding only to be told at the last second that it’s “no ring, no bring” (a fact that causes Harry to sulk throughout the reception, and Kate to remind him that not everything is about him and Meghan).
They visit Botswana again in August for Meghan’s birthday, but Harry’s angry about the upcoming anniversary of his mother’s death, and Meghan tries to soothe him until he ends up screaming at her that she’s just an actress who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Then he runs off into the night, coming face to face with that creepy Diana lion. Harry apologises to Meghan, proposes, and alert the palace. Harry makes plans to move to Canada (Will and Kate gasp when they find out), but Meghan decides to quit Suits before he can start looking at apartments.
Suddenly it’s December, and they’re in the car waiting to embark on their first engagement in Nottingham, and real-life Harry and Meghan appear on the screen.
All in all, a total miss. My biggest gripe is the characterisations. For those who know nothing about the Royal Family, their takeaway for William is that he’s unhappily married and would rather be single, like his brother. Kate would be a shrewish racist who thinks Windsor women shouldn’t have public opinions (even though, as Charles and William take great pains to point out, that she won’t stop sharing her views in private). Camilla is in the movie for all of five minutes it seems, and only then because Harry needs to tell his father that he deserves his happiness and that he should’ve been allowed to marry her from the start (if he realises that means he’d never be born in that scenario, it doesn’t register). The Queen is only featured at the end, when she meets Meghan at Christmas (even though they met in the summer) and poor Prince Philip isn’t even in it.
But the most galling fact is that the movie doesn’t even include a Princess Michael character. Instead, her blackamoor brooch is worn by an older, fictional aristocrat at Pippa’s wedding, and it’s Prince Harry who calls her out, not Meghan (because she’s not even there).
The writers went out of their way to create an entirely new character to wear the blackamoor brooch just so Harry can tell her off, yet they have no problem giving Kate – who by all indications, in real life, has been nothing but a champion for her brother-in-law and Meghan – racist lines warning Harry to consider Meghan’s heritage before he decides to pursue the relationship.
The story also places fast and loose with the timeline and the facts. If you went by this timeline, the couple only really falls in love about a year before their engagement; Kate was pregnant for 11 months; Harry and Meghan were engaged in Botswana when they visited for her 36th birthday; and Meghan only met The Queen at Christmas. Or is it pre-Christmas? It’s hard to keep it straight.
The writers had all the components for a great love story here, but it’s a giant swing and a miss with characters that lack depth and wade through manufactured drama. Meghan only reacts to what’s happening around her, and for all her talk of being independent, she never really controls the narrative, she just reacts defensively to everything; and Harry spends the whole movie like he’s waiting for one more person to tell him to follow tradition so he can yell “TO HELL WITH TRADITION!”
We all know that inevitably, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be introduced as characters on The Crown. I’d wait for that before I recommended this cheese-fest to a friend.