A version of this story appeared in the October 21 edition of CNN’s Royal News, a weekly dispatch bringing you the inside track on Britain’s royal family. Sign up here.
For a series that was technically never announced, there’s an awful lot of chatter surrounding the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s forthcoming documentary.
For those who need catching up, things kicked off when entertainment industry site Deadline reported Netflix was “rattled” by criticism of the upcoming season of “The Crown” and, as a result, the streamer had reportedly decided to push the release of the Sussexes’ show from December into next year.
The final season of “The Crown,” which drops on November 9, is now reaching the 1990s – a notoriously tumultuous decade for the family, which saw the demise of three royal marriages and public opinion of the Windsors plummet.
Critics blasted Netflix’s decision to release the new season so soon after the death of Queen Elizabeth II as insensitive. And former British Prime Minister John Major, played in the upcoming season by Dominic West, slammed rumored plot points as “damaging and malicious fiction.”
Other outlets later countered the report of the documentary’s delay. Britain’s Telegraph newspaper cited friends of the Sussexes as insisting it would still be going out in December.
Whatever the truth about the docu-series’ launch date, it does appear that Netflix was unnerved by the negative response to the latest series of “The Crown.” A source close to the streamer told CNN: “They’re running around like headless chickens.”
It’s not hard to see why. The latest series was filmed before the death of Queen Elizabeth, which changed the context considerably. “There’s this perfect storm of the Queen having died, the most contentious series of ‘The Crown’ about to go out, and a new King coming in, and realizing that this could be really damaging,” the source said.
Part of the issue, the source added, is that the latest series deals with events that are in living memory, with participants who are still alive and recall the reality. “When you have Winston Churchill having a fictional conversation with a fictional secretary, nobody cares. The moment you have people in the room – cornerstones of British society – being still alive and are able to fact-check it, then you have a problem.”
CNN reached out to Netflix but had not heard back by the time of writing this newsletter.
The whole story around the Sussexes’ docu-series has been shrouded in mystery. Everyone knows Harry and Meghan inked a multi-year production deal with Netflix a few years ago, but the series wasn’t officially announced by the service as other projects in development were.
That is, until an interview with the duchess on Wednesday confirmed the tell-all was, indeed, in the works.
Meghan acknowledged the docu-series is being helmed by filmmaker Liz Garbus, telling Variety it was “nice to be able to trust someone with our story – a seasoned director whose work I’ve long admired.”
She also said: “It’s interesting. My husband has never worked in this industry before. For me, having worked on ‘Suits,’ it’s so amazing to be around so much creative energy and to see how people work together and share their own points of view. That’s been really fun.”
However, the duchess also hinted that there are elements of the project that are out of her hands and those of her husband. “We’re trusting our story to someone else, and that means it will go through their lens,” she revealed.
It’s also worth noting that we’re still also waiting for Harry’s highly anticipated memoir – expected sometime in the fall – which could well be adding to the anxiety levels of royal household staff.
We’re unlikely to hear from the royal family or Buckingham Palace on either of the Netflix offerings. Long-standing policy has been not to comment on fictional depictions of Windsors, while recent protocol has been to avoid commenting on criticism from the Sussexes of various family members.
But the challenge for the royals is how to manage the fallout from shows such as these, especially when there is a very real possibility of it affecting international perceptions of the family. This is a new monarchy and a test for King Charles III – and there may come a point when he feels the need to address it.
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?
Queen’s death was a ‘complicated time,’ Meghan says.
In the aforementioned interview with Variety, the Duchess of Sussex touched on the legacy of the late Queen, whom she hailed as “the most shining example” of female leadership. The wide-ranging interview, which was conducted before the Queen’s death but since updated, also saw the duchess open up about her love of cooking and what it’s like to share an office with Prince Harry, and addressed speculation she might return to acting. Have a read here.
King Charles to welcome second prime minister of his reign.
UK Prime Minister Liz Truss mentioned in her resignation statement Thursday that she had “spoken to His Majesty the King” Charles III to notify him that she was resigning. This makes her the first prime minister in 71 years to resign to a King. One of the Queen’s final acts before her death in September was to appoint Truss to the top role. Boris Johnson met the Queen earlier the same day to notify her of his resignation as prime minister. The last prime minister to resign to a King was Clement Attlee, who notified King George VI – Queen Elizabeth’s father and King Charles III’s grandfather – of his resignation in 1951. George VI died in 1952.
Celebrating a new member of the Commonwealth.
King Charles warmly welcomed the president of Gabon – one of the latest countries to join the ranks of the Commonwealth – to Buckingham Palace on Monday. The monarch was pictured smiling broadly as he shook President Ali Bongo Ondimba’s hand. Meanwhile, the Gabonese flag was raised over the Commonwealth’s HQ at Marlborough House in a special ceremony marking the country’s accession to the organization. Commonwealth leaders accepted Gabon’s application, as well as that of Togo, at the organization’s Heads of Government meeting in Kigali, Rwanda in June. Neither country has any historic ties with the Commonwealth, which now has 56 members.
(CNN’s Richard Allen Greene contributed to this section.)
DID YOU KNOW?
Harry and Meghan have helped build a playground in Uvalde, nearly five months after an elementary school in the Texas city suffered one of the deadliest mass school shootings in US history. The couple’s Archewell Foundation joined forces with the city of Uvalde “to support community unity and healing by creating a playspace for kids and the community to enjoy,” according to KABOOM!, another of the project’s partners. The playground in DeLeon Park is four blocks from Robb Elementary School, where 19 children and two teachers died in the May 24 shooting.
Local resident Mayra Vasquez said seeing the community rally around a positive initiative warmed her heart. “I’m excited to see many families come together to work out, have family gatherings, and allow our kids to release energy and have fun at the end of the day,” she said in the press release from KABOOM! Uvalde’s mayor, Don McLaughlin, said in the same release that the city had “a long road ahead to recover,” before praising the project for offering the community an avenue to focus on as they try to heal. “We are grateful for the rallying of support from KABOOM!, Archewell, and others who are committed to the long-term health and well-being of the kids and families in Uvalde,” he added.
The Duchess of Sussex made a private visit to Uvalde days after the shooting. She quietly joined others at a memorial site near the school to pay her respects. Her spokesperson said at the time that the trip was taken “in a personal capacity as a mother, to offer her condolences and support in person to a community experiencing unimaginable grief.”
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
British actor Daniel Craig on Tuesday received the same honor as his fictional character James Bond when he was awarded the Order of St. Michael and St. George by Princess Anne. Craig was presented with the honor “in recognition of his outstanding contribution to film and theater,” the royal family’s official Twitter account announced Tuesday. The account shared a photo of Craig receiving the honor from the senior royal and referenced a famous line from the Bond movies: “We’ve been expecting you.” According to the UK government, the honor typically “recognizes prominent and highly distinguished contributions overseas and in international affairs,” such as by senior diplomats. The 54-year-old actor starred as the British secret service agent in the last five Bond movies, making his first appearance in “Casino Royale” in 2006 and saying his goodbye to 007 in 2021’s “No Time To Die.”
(CNN’s Allegra Goodwin contributed to this section.)
FROM THE ROYAL VAULT
King Charles print goes under the hammer.
A print of a painting by the King went for almost 10 times its original estimate when it sold at auction Thursday. The print is one of 100 of a painting of Balmoral Castle, the royal residence in Scotland where the Queen was staying before her death, and was part of Bonhams’ “The Scottish Home” auction.
“In my time as an auctioneer I have never seen so many commission bids lodged prior to an auction,” said Hamish Wilson, senior valuer at Bonhams, referring to bids placed before a live auction. “I think that speaks for itself.”
The auction, which saw prospective buyers take part online from around the world, was live-streamed on the Bonhams website. Get the full story here.
So read a note around the neck of Paddington Bear, the beloved children’s literature character, named after the London station where he was found. Michael Bond’s 1958 book “A Bear Called Paddington” follows the adventures of the small orphaned bear as he travels from Peru to the British capital, where – through his impeccable politeness – he is taken in by the Brown family.
While the Queen will always be remembered for her corgis, her relationship with the little bear has a special place in British hearts. In a video for her Platinum Jubilee celebrations, the Queen joined the beloved bear for tea and shared his trademark marmalade sandwiches. Watch the skit here.
The unlikely friendship so touched the country that, after the monarch’s death, Buckingham Palace had to ask mourners not to leave marmalade sandwiches among the floral tributes. More than 1,000 teddy bears were left for her, and were later collected by the palace and donated to a children’s charity. Read more here.