Disjointed, misleading and deeply frustrating: why the Harry and Meghan documentary didn’t make it – Thelocalreport.in

Finch: “Everything feels disjointed, pulling from one pillar to another in a dizzying ride”

Watching the opening segment of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex DocuseriesI thought for a moment that we were about to get Meghan and Harry’s own version of The Crown. When the pressures of being real began to hint, it felt like we were about to be taken through some kind of inside story, a no-holds-barred account of what it’s really like to be at The Firm. Something, at least, that lived up to the drama of the controversial trailer for the documentary. A few more minutes later he was less sure.

Ah, it looks like it’s all about their romance now. So, will it be six episodes of her love story? Now it appears to be a gutting of the press. So, is it a document on the exploitation of the media? Wrong again.

A general rule of thumb with documentary filmmaking is that you have to be very clear about what story you’re trying to tell, and you have to make sure that viewers understand what that story is about pretty quickly. The best documentaries are held together by invisible threads: you must feel guided through them. Within the first 10 minutes of the Sussexes’ six-part series, I found myself wondering where they were going with that. Three episodes in and I can’t say I’m the wiser.

Candidates for a central theme to anchor the series blew up from all angles in that opening episode. In a mammoth nine-minute intro that veers a bit close to what I’d call “conspiracy theory aesthetic” at times, we’ve got several contenders: great romance; a kind of autobiographical story to combat misinformation; a story of betrayal and bribery in the media. All of them were, individually, I think documentary-ready, but none seemed to take off. Nothing was rigorously vetted; the themes seemed to be picked up, aired briefly, and then dropped again. For a fleeting moment in the second episode. suddenly they told us about Brexit and how it had stoked the underground racism Meghan faced. It’s an interesting topic but, with only a couple scant minutes of screen time, she didn’t really land.

I think I would have preferred to see almost any of the many dead-end story arcs that seemed to appear (only to fade again) as a stand-alone movie, though only if they could generate any real insight, something deeper than the series currently counts on. Instead, it all feels disjointed, taking you from one pillar to the next on a whirlwind journey from her first text messages to the history of colonialism in Britain.

The lack of a narrator does them no favors. It’s not in style to have a narrator in documentaries these days, but in the absence of a personalized commentary, the story can become extremely difficult to follow. There were moments watching the first three episodes where you just wanted to stop and say “wait a minute; Where the hell are we?”

It’s not about being slavishly chronological. You simply need to signal effectively, both when you’re moving into a whole new subject and, more importantly, every time you’re going back in time. Also, it must be said, you can’t fool the viewers. I was afraid there might be more to the tampering that was correctly mentioned in the trailer; actually, that doesn’t seem to be the case in these first three episodes. But the timeline often feels a bit hazy. When you first see excerpts from the Panorama interview that Diana gave (rare these days, given the BBC’s promise never to show it), you know it’s 1995, but a minute later, John Major tells the House of Commons that the Prince and Princess of Wales are separating. No one tells you that this was in fact years before.

The next three episodes of the six-part show will premiere on December 15: Duke and Duchess of Sussex/Netflix

What is very clear is that there was a whole phalanx of cooks in this project. The end credits made me laugh, they were so absurdly long. There were nine executive producers; you tend to get that in a big international drama. For a documentary there were a lot of takers, from Story Syndicate, Archewell Productions, Diamond Docs and Netflix, of course. No doubt all with subtly different agendas.

Instead of looking like a conventional factual documentary, it was more like one of those celebrity documentaries that draw huge audiences for Netflix, where the star is in front of the camera and has the latest editorial approval. Whatever the truth of the behind-the-scenes infighting in the production, this was very much the authorized take.

One thing that streamers obsess over, above all else, is a dramatic arc. Netflix wants its documentaries to be crafted like a drama would be, using beats that traditionally belong in drama. I’m surprised he didn’t push for that more with this series. Although the access often felt intimate, most of the drama rarely happened on screen. The photos and clips of the couple’s initial courtship they were, briefly, exciting. That blossoming romance, at first in secret, and then in the face of a global media whirlwind of absurd proportions, was genuinely moving because, ironically, the viewer was being given a prime front-row seat into the action, albeit after the fact.

As for the rest of the story, the couple’s take on the press intrusion, their views on how Meghan’s coverage should be viewed through the prism of race, it all felt deeply frustrating. Depending on her perspective, an endless wail or a missed opportunity of criminal proportions.

I do have some sympathy for what the series is trying to say, but in terms of story, it didn’t really work. If you want to keep viewers glued, you need to dig into a few specific incidents. With four “investigative investigators” marked off in the final reel, you’d think the movies would go out of their way to be a bit more forensic in places, so as not to shy away from the details. Strangely, for what is in a way such an obviously angry cri-de-coeur, it feels like several blows have been taken off.

The music, which might have helped tie things together, didn’t make things any better. In the body of the films, the score felt oddly fragmented: instead of helping with pacing and emotion, it screeched, all too often as generic as some of the attack lines.

It should be such an intriguing watch, and yet, simply put, it’s not. The lines of attack offered to us here don’t feel fresh or revealing. And they don’t land as they should.

In many ways, this series is a million miles away from the film we did for the BBC, Elizabeth: the invisible queen, which, like the Harry and Meghan docuseries, was based on never-before-seen archival footage. Where our movie was meant to be quiet, this one is happy to shout from the rooftop. Where the first strove to be impartial, this is an unapologetic activist. That would be fine if he went far enough, if he had any real impact.

Both are sorts of filmed autobiographies, based on a private archive and relying heavily on the words of their subjects. I bet they were both done in the edit, and not, so to speak, in the can. Unfortunately, you can’t always rely on rebuilding the ship at sea.

As told to Eleanor Steafel

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