Parisa Fitz-Henley as Meghan Markle and Murray Fraser as Prince Harry in “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance.” (Lifetime)
This weekend, in anticipation of the upcoming nuptials between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Lifetime will air “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance.” The film, a fine entry into the canon of the network’s cheese-tastic original movies, made news last week when the director revealed that Buckingham Palace officials are reportedly “seriously worried about the sex scene” that’s teased in the trailer.
The scene in question, we can inform you, is quite tame. There’s some kissing, and the couple (Parisa Fitz-Henley as Markle, Murray Fraser as Harry) is shown cuddling in bed, with sheets covering everything except their bare shoulders. So while it’s understandable that quote got all the headlines, there’s actually a far more interesting scene in the movie that deserves attention.
The screenwriters (Terrence Coli and Scarlett Lacey, writers on E!’s “The Royals”) had only two weeks to complete the script. Although the production team devoured articles, books and documentaries for research, they used their imaginations to fill in the gaps about the romance of a very private couple. But one of the duo’s most public moments was in November 2016, when the palace took the rare step of releasing a statement, on behalf of Harry, to condemn the racist and sexist abuse that Markle, who is biracial, had endured since news of their relationship leaked out. He also chastised the media for intrusive coverage: “Prince Harry is worried about Ms. Markle’s safety and is deeply disappointed he has not been able to protect her.”
An impressive gesture, right? Well, not for the movie’s version of Markle. Her character is shown as actually being furious with the statement, particularly the part about Harry saying he wanted to protect her — because to her, the idea of being seen as a “damsel in distress” was everything she had worked against her whole life as a feminist.
“I have spent years dealing with trolls and death threats all by myself, just a part of being in the public eye,” says Fitz-Henley-as-Markle, who starred for years on USA’s legal drama “Suits.” “I made peace with it because I am … not some fragile wench up in an ivory tower. My tower ain’t ivory, dude. And I’m not going to be put into one, you hear me? ”
It’s a pretty intriguing take on Markle’s reaction — by contrast, the movie portrays Kate Middleton (Laura Mitchell) as calling Harry’s statement “the most romantic thing I’ve ever read.” Markle is so upset by it all that she breaks up with Harry. She quickly comes to her senses, however, when her mother (Melanie Nicholls-King) points out that of course Harry would have such a strong reaction after what happened to Princess Diana.
“That boy lost his mother to the paparazzi. They chased her into the tunnel that night. And after the crash, when she lay there dying, what did they do? They took pictures,” Markle’s mother points out. “Now those same people are attacking you. And you expect him not to try and protect you?”
Although the writers and producers invented what happened behind closed doors, they wanted to use the much-discussed real-life incident to highlight the core parts of Harry’s and Markle’s identities that were shaped by their pasts.
“The statement that Harry released … that’s a pretty incredible departure of how the royals tend to respond to things like that,” said co-executive producer Michele Weiss in an interview. “We were trying to create something that made sense given who they are and their circumstances.”
It’s a pivotal scene that brings the whole movie together, as Markle realizes that Harry is truly in love with her. In classic romance movie fashion, she even rushes to the airport to stop his private plane so they can get back together.
Prince William and Kate Middleton (Burgess Abernathy and Laura Mitchell) join Meghan and Harry at a family wedding. (Lifetime)
Even if the palace officials have some concerns about the movie, producers hope they watch and enjoy: The film was made “with a tremendous amount of love and respect for them as a couple,” said co-executive producer Merideth Finn.
And though many viewers might already be familiar with Harry and Markle’s journey, producers also aimed to underscore some of the culturally important parts of their story — namely, that Markle is American, biracial and divorced, which is highly unusual for a member of the British royal family.
“Every once in awhile, they hit a speed bump in the road, because they’re stuck in the past,” Finn said. “We wanted to highlight how this is a historical moment for the royals, [which will] hopefully continue to modernize this family.”
“Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance” airs Sunday, May 13 at 8 p.m. on Lifetime.