Harry & Meghan film is high stakes for former royals – and for Netflix

Documentary teaser comes at awkward time for royal family amid race row and Prince and Princess of Wales’ US tour

The biggest surprise of this week’s release of a trailer for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s forthcoming Netflix documentary is that it appeared at all. Amid speculation that the programme – entitled Harry & Meghan – was still being edited or had been delayed until next year, here, finally, was a commitment that the tell-all would soon make it to the air.

“When the stakes were this high, doesn’t it make more sense to hear our story from us?” Meghan is seen asking.

But the decision to put out the minute-long clip – in which the couple pledge to give viewers their account of royal life – came at an awkward time for the rest of the royal family, who were dealing with a race row and the start of the Prince and Princess of Wales’ tour of the US.

There was speculation that there had been a back-and-forth between the royal couple and Netflix about whether to delay the show after the death of Queen Elizabeth II.

If, as now looks likely, Netflix does push ahead with a pre-Christmas release date for the documentary, it also suggests that the streaming company needs eyeballs to make up for its multimillion-dollar investment in the couple, especially after the launch of its new advertising-supported basic tier subscription.

This reflects the change of fortunes at Netflix since it signed the deal with the royals’ production company, Archewell, in September 2020. Back then the streaming company was still riding high financially, as customers stuck at home because of the pandemic signed up to subscriptions. This helped prompt a splurge on signing mega deals that now looks decadent – such as buying the entire estate of Roald Dahl.

Harry & Meghan, Netflix.

At the time, the Sussexes were reported to have been in a bidding war with Disney+ and Apple TV+, with the couple seeking a deal worth about $100m (£81m) for a wide-ranging documentary.

Whether they got a deal worth that sum – and how much of the money would be tied to the successful delivery of finished products – is unknown. The Harry and Meghan documentary already lost one director, while another project – a Meghan-led animation about a young girl taking influence from prominent women in history – was cancelled as part of Netflix cuts earlier this year.

It will also provide a window into the level of public interest in the couple – at least in the UK, where audience data on Netflix’s shows is now easily available. Whereas before the streaming service hid its viewing numbers, now there will be independent audience figures available for the programme. It could also highlight the very different reactions to the couple in the UK – where they have faced hostile media coverage and are suing multiple newspapers – in contrast to the US, where they have been broadly welcomed to their new life in California.

The couple have, however, received unexpected PR support for their contentious case that the royal family struggled with issues around race when Lady Susan Hussey, a longstanding aide to the late queen, resigned this week after she questioned the charity founder Ngozi Fulani at a palace reception about where she was “really from”.

Tom Bower, who wrote a critical biography of Meghan, has previously claimed that Lady Hussey was tasked with helping Markle integrate into the royal family, with little success.

“That will all end in tears,” she is alleged to have said about the couple’s relationship.

As if to illustrate the circular nature of the Netflix-royal-family-relationship, Hussey briefly appears in episode eight of the latest series of The Crown. In the show, she is portrayed as having a discussion with her husband – the-then BBC chair, Marmaduke Hussey – about the difficulties of royal media coverage.

Contributor

Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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