Review of BBC documentary ‘Harry and Meghan: A Royal Engagement’

In 1936 Edward VIII abdicated the British throne because the Church of England refused to allow a royal marriage to Wallis Simpson, a divorced American. This came as somewhat of a shock to the British public, as media organisations such as the BBC, then run by ‘old boy’ networks, had actively censored the ‘scandalous’ relationship.

Over eighty years later, the BBC has produced a half-hour long documentary, heartily celebrating the engagement of Prince Henry of Wales and Rachel Meghan Markle, a wholly decent and admirable woman, who also happens to be, inconsequentially, a divorced American. Again, the BBC, ever an advocate of the royals, has the British monarchy’s back, in a way modern viewers can now enjoy and appreciate.

Presented by Kirsty Young, the documentary followed a ‘talking heads’ format, with a range of journalists and (albeit vague, at times) associates of the happy couple (Tinie Tempah?). Importantly, the majority of the programme focused on the individual lives of Prince Harry and Meghan, both commendable careerists and activists in their own right, before outlining key events of their relatively new relationship.

We learnt Suits actor Markle was born in LA; her mother was a social worker and her father a lighting director. Instead of concentrating on the differing economic backgrounds of the Prince and Meghan, however, speakers, such as the historian Professor Kate Williams, discussed the social conscience and compassion with which Meghan was raised. This, I believe, was an appropriate approach in the face of Channel 4’s counterpart documentary, gushily named ‘When Harry Met Meghan: A Royal Romance’, which was criticised by the Telegraph for highlighting the poverty of Markle’s ancestors in a patronising manner.

In answer to Young’s opening question ‘what does this young couple, from very different worlds, have in common?’, A Royal Engagement drew parallels between the humanitarianism of Prince Harry, founder of the Invictus Games and Heads Together, and Meghan Markle, ambassador of UN Women and World Vision Canada. Clearly, both have used their platforms for the greater good; I certainly got the impression from their official interview that the couple will come closer together in their pursuit of change for the better.

As Royal Reporter for the Daily Mirror Victoria Murphy stated from the offset, it seems both Meghan and Harry had developed as fully-fledged individuals before embarking on their relationship; Harry has enjoyed two tours of duty in Afghanistan, for instance, while Meghan has a degree in Theatre and International Relations from Chicago’s North-western university. This clear sense of individualism was stylishly put across by the BBC, with Vanity Fair’s Sam Kashner concluding that Meghan Markle, ‘not someone who will be easily controlled by anyone’, will never be defined by any relationship.

Overall, the BBC have implied their utmost support for the couple and all they represent in a subtle and tasteful manner. The documentary wasn’t overly sentimental, with only brief and relevant references to the tragic death of Princess Diana. It was only in the closing words of Jaco van Gass, ex-paratrooper and friend to Prince Harry, that a well concealed notion of hopeless romanticism was blatantly stated; ‘they’re perfect, absolutely perfect’. Additionally, A Royal Engagement didn’t overplay the significance of Kensington Palace’s statement of last year, defending Meghan against ‘the outright sexism and racism of social media trolls’. We should, after all, expect such protection for Markle from our heads of state – not be surprised by it; this is not the age of Edward and Simpson, after all. 

To the point, and an easy watch, this documentary serves as an ‘all-you-need-to-know’ guide to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s surprisingly down-to-earth relationship. 


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