Daniela Elser: Harry and Meghan’s Netflix trailer declares war on William and Kate

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Harry and Meghan tackle their rift with the royal family in a new documentary.
Video / Netflix

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OPINION

It should have been the photo that went global.

William and Kate, Prince and Princess of Wales were leaving a Boston cleantech incubator when they were introduced to a little boy dressed in a tiny Beefeater costume who was nervously bearing red roses.

The image was entirely adorable and should have been front page catnip, a cutesy shot redolent with the goodwill that has (mostly) greeted the royal duo since landing in the US on Wednesday.

But, who cares? In the early hours of Friday when the sweet moment happened, short of Kate stepping out in a Jean Paul Gaultier nude dress or revealing she had taken up pole dancing on the weekends, there was only one story – THE TRAILER.

In under one minute, Harry and Meghan, Duke and Duchess of Sussex and Netflix – their forces combined – have managed to set off the biggest detonation under Buckingham Palace in 30 years and since Diana, Princess of Wales managed to get a hold of Andrew Morton’s phone number.

Pompously billed as Harry & Meghan. A Netflix Global Event, like the second coming but with better lighting and more lip gloss, the six-part doco will reportedly land next week, though Netflix has yet to deign to confirm.

Harry and Meghan's candid moment caught on camera. Photo / Netflix
Harry and Meghan’s candid moment caught on camera. Photo / Netflix

For our purposes though there is one key thing to understand here: This trailer feels like nothing short of a declaration of war.

If anyone, cough, a certain writer, had thought that the Sussexes’ mystery streaming project might just turn out to be a multi-hour ad for Sussex Caring ™, the Duke and Duchess doing good works without ever letting go of another’s hands for a nanosecond, a worthy, only slightly nauseating PSA for just how good they are at charity, then … oh boy.

Reading the tea leaves of this trailer, it looks a lot like the Duke and Duchess well and truly have the royal family in their crosshairs.

Obviously, it’s impossible to go past the timing. That the world got its first look at this series right when William and Kate are back on US soil for the first time in eight years seems like just too much of a coincidence.

The release could have come on any day in recent weeks or months but oh no. It came right as William is gearing up for his moment in the global spotlight, ahead of him meeting President Joe Biden on Friday, US time, and ahead of the second outing of his highly successful and lauded Earthshot Prize.

Any hope the Waleses might have had of a smooth-sailing, big smiles, textbook royal trip can be tidily packed away with William’s GrowRite shampoo: We’re firmly in disaster territory here now folks.

It was bad enough that earlier this week the Prince’s godmother had to resign after facing accusations of racism but Friday’s trailer has truly destroyed any chance of the Waleses foray getting the attention or interest they must have hoped for.

All that hard work, all that planning, dashed by about 55 seconds of slightly overwrought emotion and moody piano music.

Aside from a few ardent monarchists and Tony Abbott who is probably glued to every Boston TV stations’ live stream, who cares just how good of a job the Prince and Princess of Wales are doing charming the masses?

Kate, Princess of Wales poses for a photo with the crowd after a tour of Roca in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Prince William greets people on the left. Photo / AP
Kate, Princess of Wales poses for a photo with the crowd after a tour of Roca in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Prince William greets people on the left. Photo / AP

Not when we feast our eyes on the buffet of numerous photos of the supposedly notoriously private Duke and Duchess smooching and on holiday at what looks like various international locales! It’s overblown and overplayed and even though William and Kate are over there, how could they even begin to compete with the Sussexes’ positively Hallmark offering?

However, while the Waleses might be quietly mourning the trip that was meant to be and the PR gold of Kate posing stiffly with Billie Eilish (sure to have gotten the Gen Zs on board!), the Harry and Meghan trailer release signifies something much more important.

This is the point of no return.

Like Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon to enter Rome, sparking civil war, with this series, Harry and Meghan are entering new territory in terms of their relationship with his family, their careers and their brand.

If this trailer is any indication then the Sussexes’ Oprah interview last year, with their shocking claims of institutional racism and that ice-water runs in royal veins, translates to nothing but an amuse-bouche in contrast to this Netflix series’ degustation menu of drramaaah.

What this trailer would seem to suggest is that the couple are going all-in in their fight to, once and for all, win permanent victim status, whether of the institution or the family or both.

The decision for us to hear Harry saying, “No one sees what happens behind closed doors” before then the trailer immediately cuts to a shot of a stony-faced Kate taken during that Commonwealth Day service back in March 2020 can be no coincidence or accident.

We are shown Meghan hunched over with her head in her hands while on the phone, a $2500 Hermès blanket artfully draped over the chair; there is Harry, head back seemingly overcome by emotion and Meghan wiping tears away; and Meghan looking like she’s teary in a car. (Maybe they should have called this Meghan Crying In Places and Getting Sympathy a la the Jerry Seinfeld Netflix series?)

And it’s all done in artful black and white in what feels like a patently obvious attempt to really dial up the pathos to 11.

Does anyone, after watching this trailer, really think we are in for a nuanced portrait of the competing demands of personal happiness versus duty?

Harry serenading Meghan with a guitar. Photo / Netflix
Harry serenading Meghan with a guitar. Photo / Netflix

That there might be any real acknowledgement of their extraordinary privilege, both materially and the global platform afforded to them as frontline members of the royal family? (The Hermès blanket moment nearly seems like a parody.)

Having seen this, the chances of any sort of improvement in trans-Atlantic HRH relations would seem to be a big fat zero.

After Harry and Meghan comes out, it’s hard to see how any royal journalist or writer will ever again be able to use the words ‘healing’ or ‘forgiveness’ or ‘bridge building’ in the context of William and Harry’s relationship except sarcastically.

Likewise, King Charles. Nearly every story about father and son has stressed that the King loves his younger boy but how could this TV project not feel like something of a betrayal?

All families fight but most families don’t end up replaying their various hurts over a six-hour narrative arc on the world’s biggest streaming platform.

What is also remarkable here is that this trailer presents us with a profoundly 21st century philosophical question: What is the difference between a documentary and a reality show?

In your standard Bravo fare we get tears, voyeuristic looks inside attractive people’s relationships and lots of peering inside their vast multimillion-dollar homes. In Harry and Meghan we get tears, voyeuristic looks inside attractive people’s relationships and lots of peering inside their vast multimillion-dollar homes.

Just because one star’s father here happens to be a head of state doesn’t automatically make this a Serious Project worthy of chin-stroking intellectualism nor does rendering everything in black and white make this highbrow.

There are so many questions that the coming release of this show raises.

Can the Sussexes expect or demand privacy when they are willing to breach their own privacy in return for a large cheque? Can or will they be taken seriously as humanitarians after having gone down what might be a distinctly Kardashian-esque route?

Will this documentary that is supposedly not a reality show plant them firmly in celeb territory and undermine their hopes to become players in the philanthropic world?

Are they about to generate a global groundswell of sympathy and support for their various travails or will six hours of watching very wealthy people tear up over mean headlines in the Daily Mail and being forced to sit in the second row actually deal them an irreparable reputational blow?

I suppose it’s really fitting that the Waleses are in Boston for the trailer to come out. It was there in 1773 that some aggrieved Yanks decided they had had enough of the way the British were treating them and chucked a load of tea overboard, thus starting the American Revolution.

Just shy of 250 years later, a very similar scenario is playing out, only with $2500 blankets and Netflix crews to capture every tear.

Looks like the revolution will indeed be televised.

Daniela Elser is a writer and a royal commentator with more than 15 years’ experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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