LONDON — British media outlets — even the more sober, politically minded ones — just couldn’t help themselves.
On Thursday, they treated the Netflix release of “Harry & Meghan,” part one, like a breaking story, sending out news blasts and posting the couple’s revelations in real time, moments after they aired.
Until around noon local time, the story threw shade on every other bit of news here, including the threat of more strikes over Christmas, surging rates of obesity and diabetes and more children’s deaths from a new and lethal strain of Strep A.
The Guardian had a flashing timeline on its homepage, with minute-by-minute updates such as “Prince Harry says Meghan reminds him of his mother,” followed by “Harry suggests members of royal family felt media intrusion was an initiation rite for Meghan.”
Sky News, meanwhile, flagged as breaking news, comments such as Harry admitting, “We met over Instagram,” or “Meghan describes engagement interview as ‘orchestrated reality show.’”
All the hype belied the fact there was very little fresh news in the first three hours of the two-part documentary, except maybe that little Archie has an American accent.
Also, Harry admitted that his disastrous decision to wear a Nazi uniform to a costume party in 2005 was “the biggest mistake of my life.” He had already apologized for it at the time.
Although no fees have been confirmed, Netflix is widely reported to have paid the couple $100 million for the six-part series, and they were certainly going to get their money’s worth. Even without any intercontinental ballistic missiles launched, this production was never going to be a low-key affair.
While some media outlets offered a blow-by-blow of the events unfurling on screen, others took aim at Harry, Meghan and the documentary itself, which drops at a difficult time in the U.K., amid a cost-of-living crisis; new strike action announced nearly every day, and working people unable to heat their homes.
The Sun jumped in early with its critique, splashing a headline on its homepage that read, “Netfibs: Five times Meghan Markle and Harry appear to change their story in Netflix documentary.”
The paper spotted what it believes are inconsistencies in the couple’s stories about their first date; the details of Harry’s marriage proposal, and how often Meghan wore bright colors when she was a working royal.
The Times of London rated the show two stars out of five, with TV critic and columnist Carol Midgley saying it had “plenty of cheesy moments and few surprises.” She described episode one as a “saccharine tsunami” and an exercise in “cloth-eared self-indulgence.”
Midgley said that if Netflix was hoping the show “would have the jaw-drop effect of previous ‘royal bombshell’ TV events, specifically Princess Diana’s Panorama interview, judging by ‘Volume 1,’ it will be disappointed. They gave so much of their ‘stuff’ away in their Oprah interview. It felt anti-climactic, a bit of a Christmas turkey.”
Sarah Vine, writing in The Daily Mail, described the show as “over-the-top and manipulative,” but was quick to add that it shows just how much Harry loves Meghan.
“In Meghan he has found his peace, a version of the mother he lost at such a tender age, his protector, the only person — as he sees it — who ever really understood him. She’s his second chance at happiness, and he’s not going to blow it,” wrote Vine.
“That’s why [Meghan] can do no wrong. That’s why he will always side with her against his family, even if she’s being a total diva. And that is why the palace now needs to start taking the Harry and Meghan problem very seriously indeed,” added Vine.
Camilla Tominey, associate editor at The Telegraph, agreed that Harry is “besotted by his wife,” but believes that he has lost touch with reality. The title of her article was “Harry, Meghan and the Half-Truth Prince: An Unashamedly One-Sided Story.”
Tominey went on to describe the documentary as a “subtle form of television warfare. Like a love story featuring an arrow filled with explosives. It used slick propaganda, thinly veiled jibes and a Sussex squad of loyal troops to do battle against bigoted Britain and its racist press.”
This is not the end.
There will be more headlines to come on Friday — a furor is already brewing here about how Netflix communicated with Buckingham Palace as the documentary was being filmed, and whether it gave the royal family a chance to respond in a timely manner.
Next week, a second three-hour episode should generate even more digital ink and Netflix downloads. Then, of course, there’s Harry’s book, “Spare,” which is due to be published on Jan. 10.
In between, King Charles will make his first Christmas address as monarch in a brief, pre-recorded speech to the British public.
It could give him an opportunity to respond to the controversy in a subtle way, such as the arrangement of the family pictures around him, or in comments about the challenges of 2022.
The British media and public will be paying close attention.