We’ve been waiting patiently for Lifetime’s take on the romance of the century, and now it’s finally here. Ahead of the show’s UK premiere, writer Kate Leaver takes a closer look at why we can’t resist tuning in to Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance…
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle have been selfishly coy about their love story, which is endlessly frustrating to anyone who believes they’re owed every detail of a celebrity relationship. Being royal, they are particularly private and so there seems very little chance – bar the explosive claims of Meghan Markle’s estranged siblings – that we will ever know what truly goes down between the ginger prince and his American love.
That is, until the Lifetime channel got involved. Now, thanks to the tele-movie Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance, we have an entirely fictionalised, definitely unauthorised depiction of exactly what happened when Harry met Meghan. There’s even a sex scene to scandalise the Queen. It is shameless, fabulous and entirely compulsory watching.
Starring Scottish actor Murray Fraser as Harry and American actress Parisa Fitz-Henley as Meghan, the Lifetime movie begins with Harry turning up 40 minutes late to his blind date with Meghan, who takes the opportunity to teach him how to use a watch – a gesture he finds so charming, he falls instantly in love with her. The remainder of the film includes Princess Diana reincarnated as a lion, a surprise clue about his heritage from Harry’s grandmother, the Queen of England, and a girls’ night out with Kate Middleton and Meghan. In the grand tradition of Lifetime movies, it is salacious without reserve.
So, as A Royal Romance airs, we must ask ourselves: What is it about Lifetime movies that we love so much? Why do we watch them? Why, for the past 28 years, has this network had such success fictionalising the lives of real people like Britney Spears, Whitney Houston and Amanda Knox? How, since 1990, have they got away with seriously releasing films called “My Stepson, My Lover” and “Mother, May I Sleep with Danger?”
To find out why we continue to switch these Lifetime movies on, and even anticipate their release, I spoke to some people who have A Royal Romance in their diaries. It’s just aired in America (where wedding fever is perhaps even more intense than over here) and comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted: “I’m genuinely enjoying the Harry & Meghan Lifetime movie and I was not high when I started watching it”.
A quick Twitter callout reveals the most common reason people watch Lifetime movies is because they delight in the fabulously lo-fi production values, the conspicuous absence of plot and the reliably hammed up acting.
For Sian, the quality of a Lifetime flick is precisely its appeal.
“I’ll be honest: I love s**t films. I am all for an Oscar-winning classic, but sometimes I don’t want to think that hard,” she says. “And I don’t want to ruin a great film by falling asleep halfway through or faffing about on Twitter at the same time. Lifetime was made for this exact moment in a busy week. It’s the same reason you watch Friends repeats instead of that show everyone’s been telling you to watch. You know the plot already.
“It’s a heartwarming story because you know it’s all going to get tied up in a neat bow, and sometimes you need that. The Will and Kate one was hilarious from the start because the characters look nothing like the real people. Nothing at all. But for some reason it doesn’t matter. I won’t change my plans to watch it, but I’ll basically watch it anytime it’s on TV and I’m lazing on the sofa.”
So, as Fake Harry predicted when I spoke to him last week, will Sian be watching A Royal Romance because she’s excited about the wedding? Not exactly. “I’m not watching it because of the wedding,” she says. “I’m watching it because the acting will be terrible and the set will be cheap and there will be no actual storyline.”
Daisy, meanwhile, has a little more respect for the Lifetime flick. “Admittedly I know these are never going to be Oscar picks, but I feel a deep affection for them – and to say they’re ‘terrible’ is, I think, to be horribly dismissive of women,” she says. “I daresay I’m not their intended audience but I think that watching them gives me a necessary insight into what women around the world watch, love and engage with. And they are aimed squarely at women.”
This is true: Back in 1990, the network was launched with a very womanly skew and has since tried to court female viewers with tales about pregnancy (Kirsten Dunst starred in Fifteen and Pregnant), infidelity, cybersex, fraud, love and murder.
“It’s safe drama,” says Daisy. “The highs and lows are ramped up, everything is gorgeous and sexy and hysterical, it’s camp in its purest form and there’s a safety in the certainty that every single moment will be wrung out to an extreme. Also, they tend to be lovely to look at, as the aesthetic is bright, blingy and playful.
“Honestly, I think the Lifetime movie will be so much more fun than the wedding. I shall watch them both, but again, so little is known about that couple, and the movie will allow me to indulge the fantasy that I can find out some secrets. The intimate life of any couple is enormously fascinating, and I know Harry and Meghan’s made up movie is going to be completely thrilling.”
As for the stars of A Royal Romance? They have some theories of their own.
“The world right now is a very unpleasant place for so many people. So why not make something sweet and warm and lovely?” Parisa Fitz-Henley, AKA Fake Meghan, tells me. “If I were Meghan, sure, I’d think it was supremely weird to watch someone else play me, but I’d hope it is funny for them to watch our sweet portrayal of their lives.”
“It’s just a nice, sweet story that gets people excited about the wedding,” says Murray Fraser, AKA Fake Harry. “People love following this romance and they feel like they have some ownership of the royal family, so they’ll relate to this.”
Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance will air on Lifetime on 14 May at 9pm
Images: courtesy of Lifetime