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It's thumbs-down in the U.K. for Harry and Meghan's Netflix Series

A woman watches an episode of the newly released Netflix docuseries <em>Harry & Meghan,</em> about Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Britain's Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in London on Thursday.
Daniel Leal
AFP via Getty Images
A woman watches an episode of the newly released Netflix docuseries Harry & Meghan, about Britain's Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Britain's Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, in London on Thursday.

LONDON — Reviews for the new Netflix series Harry & Meghan, by Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, have been withering in the British press. This is not surprising, given that the couple spends much of the first three episodes attacking Britain's notorious tabloid media for invading their privacy and some coverage that traded in racist tropes.

Some U.K. newspapers responded in kind to the first three episodes of six. The Telegraph called the series a "very Californian exercise in grievance."

The Spectator magazine called it a "tedious, narcissistic wallow."

The criticism, however, did not just come from the political right. Britain's Guardian, which is liberal and more likely to be sympathetic to the couple's politics, called the series "a one-sided PR effort."

Across the water in Ireland — no fan of the British monarchy — the Irish Times described the first three hours as "a sometimes unwatchable plunge into Planet Sussex."

The series contains no revelations. Instead, it's an expanded version of the couple's perspective on why they left the Royal family nearly two years ago. The couple and their Archewell foundation employees focus on the Royal family's co-dependent relationship with Britain's press and the human toll it takes. Tim Burt, who does strategic communications for the foundation, describes the unwritten contract.

"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," says Burt, "and this is a sense of 'We pay, you pose.' "

Harry sees this as a power struggle.

"It all comes down to control," he says. "It's like this family is ours to exploit. Their trauma is our story and our narrative to control."

The first episode covers the couple's secret courtship and romance, which struck a chord with some viewers.

"I've always been 'Team Harry and Meghan,' " said Ateh Jewell, who writes about the beauty industry, speaking on Britain's ITV on Thursday. "She's been painted as a scheming, predatory, prince-hunting woman. And I think the first episode shows that they have a deep love, a friendship and a connection."

The "Team Harry" framing highlights the polarizing effect the couple have here. Their supporters see them as principled activists who have called out racism in Britain and the Royal family at great personal cost. Their detractors see them as complainers and ingrates who turned their back on the country after it welcomed Meghan and threw the couple a spectacular wedding at Windsor Castle in 2018.

Opinion on Prince Harry in his homeland is divided. A few years ago, he was among the most popular royals, with ratings that rivaled his late grandmother, Queen Elizabeth. Today his popularity sits at just 38%, according to research firm YouGov.

Only 27% of people here like Meghan, according to YouGov, while a slight majority don't.

Among them is Jan Veale, a retired hairdresser from Devon, in southwest England. Veale doesn't like the couple and plans to hate-watch the series.

"I am glad they've made it, because I don't like what they've done to the Royal family," said Veale, while strolling around London's Covent Garden on Thursday looking at the Christmas lights. " I think this will make people hate them even more and I'm glad of that."

NPR London producer Morgan Ayre contributed to this story.

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