In Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Lifetime found the perfect couple to blend what the channel does best: pop culture biopics and happily ever after rom-coms. Not since six years ago with Prince William and so-called “commoner” Kate Middleton has such a ripe, real-life story presented itself for adaptation. In the case of the new couple, however, specific details about Markle’s identity add narrative spice to the princess fairy tale: She is a divorced American actress who happens to be biracial.
All of those points are brought up in “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance,” a brisk and diverting two-plus hours that captures the imagined flavor of the couple’s whirlwind romance with wit and a refreshing amount of candidness about socio-political issues. Despite the romance trappings, this is where the movie leans more into the biopic side, because Markle’s very identity is political in nature. As a lifelong feminist who’s made a point to work for humanitarian causes, Markle had already set herself on a path for social justice, but once she began a relationship with Prince Harry in earnest, the political ramifications were magnified.
Harry’s (Murray Fraser) image as the party boy who chafes against his public duties is established early on, while Meghan (Parisa Fitz-Henley) is the actress who fights against sexism, including on the set of her USA show “Suits.” They both share a disdain of the limited roles that society has designated for them, and when they finally do meet on a blind date set up by a mutual friend, the fairy tale begins in earnest. After all, this movie is a romance first and foremost with plenty of warm and fuzzy sentiments getting heavy play in the beginning.
Based on a script by “The Royals” writers Scarlett Lacey and Terrence Coli, the movie imagines a playful dynamic between the two, in which Meghan ribs Harry to crack his princely veneer and they bond over their mutual lives in the public eye. Surprise visits overseas, encounters with giraffes and lions, nights under the stars, and deep vulnerabilities are shared. The courtship is depicted as swift and earnest, made so by having to stay behind closed doors to keep their relationship away from prying eyes.
Although the British celebrity sites have been trying to exaggerate the Royal Family’s trepidation about the sex scenes in the movie, this is a Lifetime production, and most passion is implied. In fact, the chemistry between the leads feels more dreamy than steamy. Fraser keeps his Scottish burr in check to play an intense and wounded Harry, who appears to be gobsmacked by Meghan. In contrast, Fitz-Henley appears more present and accessible as Meghan. She’s delighted by his attention but focused on protecting her autonomy than becoming a giddy schoolgirl about her man. This is for the best. When a contemporary couple is in the spotlight, a depiction of them as overtly sexual beings veers into icky, transgressive territory.
Once the movie shifts to the public stage of the relationship, the narrative feels more rushed and episodic, likely because there’s much more on public record to draw from. Followers of the couple will recognize each of the events covered: the racist “brooch” incident, Meghan revealing her struggles of growing up biracial (here, she confides in Harry but in the real world it’s published as an essay in Elle), and Kensington Palace’s statement against racism, among other events.
In the real world, what Markle represents to people of color, especially girls and women of color, cannot be downplayed. Her marriage is seen to be a blow against backward, racist mentality, and for the Royal Family to embrace her offers hope. “Harry & Meghan” firmly stands behind that narrative, and the central romance is richer for it. Harry and Meghan aren’t just the fairy-tale prince and princess, but they’re representatives promising change for a better world. That’s not too shabby for a Lifetime movie.
”Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance” airs Sunday at 8 p.m. ET on Lifetime. Check our Royal Wedding guide for encore presentations.