In Review

Harry & Meghan: Escaping the Palace - what the critics are saying

New made-for-TV film follows royal couple’s decision to start new life in California

“Grotesque” flashbacks, ”truly terrible” dialogue and an appearance by Princess Diana’s ghost are just some of the soul-sucking features of a new film about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, according to critics.

Harry & Meghan: Escaping the Palace premiered on Lifetime on Monday evening and is the US channel’s third fictional retelling of the couple’s life as royals.

The first instalment in the franchise was broadcast in 2018 and “focused on their romance”, said the Washington Post. The 2019 sequel “showed Meghan adjusting to life in the Palace”, while the latest movie follows the lead-up to the announcement in January last year that the pair were to “step back” as senior royals and relocate to California.

Tonally, the new movie is “wildly different from its two predecessors”, which were “so camp it was hard to tell whether they were terrible films or incredibly sly parodies of terrible films”, said Ed Power in The Telegraph. But while the latest installment is “proficiently acted and generally free of histrionics”, the result in rather “tedious”, he added. “Faintly stupefying”, in fact.

“Of course Escaping the Palace is awful,” said The Independent’s Adam White, “but it’s also the most delicious piece of popcorn entertainment in years.”

White argued that “terrible movies like this are an art form” and that the new installment in the royal drama “may be the best/worst one yet”. The film “is essentially a stilted recreation of the last two years in Harry and Meghan’s lives” and sees their “fairytale union take a dark turn”.

Themes ranging from the strained relationship between princes William and Harry to the fallout after Meghan guest-edited an issue of Vogue are all played out as the dramas surrounding “Mexit” and the Royal Family are retold. 

The film also addresses Meghan’s claims of racist treatment by Buckingham Palace. In one scene, Harry (played by British actor Jordan Dean) tells William (Jordan Whalen) that “as future king”, he needs to “push back on this [racist] bullying”.

The sex abuse allegations against Prince Andrew are acknowledged too, as his “rumoured indiscretions” with underage girls “seem to directly impact the Sussexes’ exit strategy”, said Savannah Walsh in Vanity Fair. In one scene, after learning that the Palace is “extremely concerned” about the timing of their departure, Harry asks: “We have to stay in the Firm because my uncle’s a disgrace to it?” 

Indeed, said Power in The Telegraph, Escaping the Palace “is played with a straight bat, and unlike its two glossy predecessors, isn’t remotely amusing”. 

“And that’s despite its grotesque opening set-piece,” he added. The film kicks off with a dream sequence in which Harry stumbles through the gory aftermath of the car crash that killed his mother, Diana Spencer (Bonnie Soper), “only to find the prone body” of Meghan (Sydney Morton). 

But it’s all uphill from this “crass sledgehammer moment”, Power continued, as the 87-minute film “calms down and proceeds to recap the couple’s historic break with the Royal Family”.

The film-makers position William as “public enemy No.1”, said Vanity Fair’s Walsh. “What causes problems isn't colour, it's culture,” the Prince tells his brother in response to the racism claims. 

Such stilted dialogue hampers the entire film, said The Independent’s White, who complained that “everyone here speaks like cyborgs programmed to express human emotions by an automatic text generator”.

All the same, White still awarded a five-star rating to the “spectacular fiasco” of a movie - in contrast to the low ratings doled out by most other critics. 

One thing most of the reviewers do agreed on is the quality of the acting. “One gets the sense that everyone involved is very concerned with doing right by their title subjects,” wrote Salon’s Melanie McFarland. The cast members “do a commendable job delivering some truly terrible dialogue with straight faces”.

Plans to broadcast Harry & Meghan: Escaping the Palace in the UK have not yet been announced, but the film is expected to be picked up by Channel 5, which screened the two previous movies in the franchise.

And for fans already anticipating the next potential royal film, Power predicts that “Lifetime’s Prince Andrew biopic surely can’t be too far away”.

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