Monday, May 14, 2018

Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance (Crown Productions, Silver Screen Pictures, Lifetime, 2018)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2018 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched Lifetime’s highly hyped — indeed, over-hyped — instant biopic Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance, directed by Menhaj Huda (the name sounds East Indian but he was actually born in Bangladesh — still the same subcontinent! — and that makes it rather nice that a country Britain formerly colonized has contributed a director dramatizing the doings and misdoings of the British royals) from a script by Scarlett Lacey and Terrence Coll (was it a stipulation of the producers that both the screenwriters had to have pretentiously spelled first names?) ripped from the headlines virtually everyone has been following lately. Not me, though; I generally have little or no interest in the royal family or the British upper classes in general (though I found Princess Diana fascinating enough I read Andrew Morton’s biography of her while she was still alive) — despite all my friends telling me how good it was I never watched a single episode of Downton Abbey — and my feeling was that if the guy who’s about fifth or sixth in line for the British throne (his father Charles, his elder brother William and William’s kids are all ahead of him) wants to marry an American actress who became a star on Canadian television (she was apparently in the USA Network series Suits, which I watched occasionally but never particularly noticed her) who’s a divorcée and also half-Black, that’s nobody’s business but theirs. 

As things turned out, Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance turned out to be acceptable entertainment and something of a relief — hemmed in by the real events they couldn’t make one of the lovers psychopathic (I can see it now: Psycho Prince, The Perfect Prince, The Wrong Prince, Devious Prince, or The Prince She Met Online). Writers Lacey and Coll sprinkle their script with some wicked wit — I loved the scene of their first blind date when Meghan and Harry ask each other what they do for a living. “I’m sort of an actress,” Meghan says, to which Harry replies, “I’m sort of a Prince of England.” The writers manage to shoehorn the real story into the clichés of romantic fiction, complete with a couple of obligatory misunderstandings between the lovers that temporarily derail their relationship (including one in which Harry puts out a blistering statement criticizing the paparazzi for going after Meghan’s family — paparazzi are a particularly sore point with him because he buys into the common view that paparazzi effectively killed his mom — only instead of being proud of him, Meghan tears into him for treating her like a fairy-tale “damsel in distress” that needs his protection) and the final hurdle in which, thanks to a Royal Marriages Act passed by Parliament in 1772 (if I’m recalling the date correctly), in order to marry Harry and Meghan need the permission of the current monarch. Oddly, the actress playing Queen Elizabeth isn’t listed on the page for this film, but she’s first-rate and manages to humanize the character while still making her seem properly forbidding. 

During the week Lifetime has been showing promos for this movie, including an interview with the casting director talking about how difficult it was to find actors to play the leads, and in Murray Fraser they found a perfect Prince Harry: drop-dead gorgeous (he could be my prince any time!), infectiously charming and a radiant personality one could imagine any straight woman or Gay man falling for instantly even if he didn’t come from one of the world’s most famous (and richest!) families. Parisa Fitz-Henley as Meghan isn’t quite as brilliant a personality but she’s thoroughly believable in the role. Also interesting is that at least at first, Prince William (Burgess Abernethy) and his wife Kate Middleton (Laura Mitchell) are cast as the villains of the piece: William is shown as almost as stuck-up as his famously stuck-up dad Prince Charles (Steve Coulter) and, despite the precedent-breaking nature of their own marriage (because Kate was a commoner when she and William tied the knot), they’re nervous about Harry marrying someone who’s a) an American, b) a divorcée and c) half-Black. Wallis Simpson naturally gets mentioned twice in the dialogue — a reference to the fooforaw in 1936 over King Edward VIII’s intent on marrying her even though she was American, divorced and had lived in China for a while, during which (it was rumored) she had worked as a high-class prostitute servicing Chinese men with the hots for white women. Harry and Meghan (the Lifetime movie) is a charming piece of entertainment, with lots of engaging soft-core porn between the leads, and some good supporting performances (notably Bonnie Soper as Princess Diana, even though she’s only seen briefly in flashbacks), and it was a nice, harmless 2 ½ hours (a half-hour longer than your typical Lifetime movie) entertainment.