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'Harry and Meghan' gets harsh review

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have more to say about why they left the royal family. And they're saying it in a Netflix series. NPR London correspondent and royal watcher Frank Langfitt is here. Hey there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Hey, Steve.

INSKEEP: And this is literally true because you're watching the royals, the first 3 hours yesterday. What did you see?

LANGFITT: Yeah. You know, it's interesting. They call it a documentary. But, really, they produced it. And it's about really telling their side of the story. And the first episode is kind of this story of an epic romance against the odds. That's the way they portray it. And then a lot of the rest of it is about what they see - and a lot of people would agree with them - Britain's racist and imperial past, to some degree, driving these online and press attacks on Meghan, who's biracial. And then what Harry says is the royal family didn't defender. Now, one of the most insightful lines, I think, in the show so far comes from a guy named Tim Burt. He works with the couple. And he talks about the relationship between the royal family and the press. This is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HARRY AND MEGHAN")

TIM BURT: There's a sort of unwritten contract between the institution and the press. The taxpayer in the U.K. pays for the royal family. And in return for those payments, there is an expectation that the royal family will be available to the media. And this is a sense of we pay, you pose.

LANGFITT: And, Steve, Harry says this conflict, in part, is really about power. This is what he says.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HARRY AND MEGHAN")

PRINCE HARRY: It all comes down to control. It's like, this family is ours to exploit. Their trauma is our story and our narrative to control.

LANGFITT: And another person in the documentary talks about how the royal press and photographers, they expect the family to perform. And if they don't perform, they fall out of favor. And that's what many media analysts have been telling me for a number of years now is why the tabloids, the British tabloids, turned against the couple.

INSKEEP: This is really interesting. But how are people responding where you are?

LANGFITT: Well, the reviews in the press have been pretty negative, as you might expect.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

LANGFITT: This is the same press that they criticize, of course, in the show. Some people also have found it self-indulgent. And it's interesting, too, because these - some of these are papers that are not necessarily, you know, pro-royal or, you know, conservative. The Irish Times called it a sometimes-unwatchable plunge into planet Sussex. And Britain's Guardian - they're, of course, liberal, might be sympathetic to the couple's politics - called it a one-sided PR effort.

INSKEEP: Granted, when they're producing it themselves, there's not a lot of distance between the producers and the subjects. But do some people like this?

LANGFITT: Yeah. I mean, the romance, I think, which is very well-produced in the beginning - certainly, you can see it. The romance ends up giving - I think, really resonated with people. This is Ateh Jewel, who writes about the beauty industry. She was talking yesterday on ITV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ATEH JEWEL: I've always been team Harry and Meghan. I've been talking about them for years, supporting them. She'd been painted as this scheming, predatory, prince-hunting woman. And I think the first episode shows that they have a deep love, a friendship and a connection.

INSKEEP: Do you think that episode will change minds?

LANGFITT: I think there is, Steve, sympathy for what the couple endured from the press. But many Britons feel like they welcomed Meghan. And then she criticized the royal family, fled with, from their perspective, their prince. And they see her as kind of ungrateful. I was speaking to a woman named Jean Veal (ph). She's a retired hairdresser in Devon in the southwest of England. This is how she sees it.

JEAN VEAL: I am glad they've made it because I don't like what they've done to the royal family. And I think this will make people hate them even more. And I'm glad of that. I hope they do.

LANGFITT: And, you know, several years ago, Steve, Prince Harry was among the most popular royals, even rivaling the late queen. Now his popularity is down to just 38% and Meghan down to 27%, according to polling.

INSKEEP: Frank's popularity remains quite high. NPR's Frank Langfitt. Thanks so much.

LANGFITT: Thanks, Steve. Always great to talk. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.