If you read the CV of filmmaker and director Garrett Bradley, you would think she was cooked up in a lab in Montecito. (Interior scene: Bubbling test tubes, Meghan, Duchess of Sussex in a lab coat and safety goggles peering intently into a beaker.)
Bradley has an Oscar nomination, worked on Ava DuVernay’s miniseries about the African American men wrongfully convicted in the Central Park jogger case, was the first woman of colour to take home the best director prize at Sundance and directed a Netflix documentary about tennis great Naomi Osaka who has been open about her mental health struggles.
To recap: Here we have a woman who has broken boundaries and helmed critically acclaimed projects focused on race and mental health.
On paper, it’s almost impossible to come up with a filmmaker more perfect to captain whatever TV series it is that Meghan and husband Prince Harry have been working on for Netflix.
And yet, it has now been reported that in fact the royal duo “had a falling out” with Bradley and ultimately went on to replace her with Oscar nominee Liz Garbus.
This revelation is just the latest in an ever-growing list of speed bumps and hiccups that have reportedly bedevilled the Duke and Duchess’s first big Netflix show.
More than two years since they signed on with the corporate behemoth, still no one knows what this show will actually be about, what they have left to say after their Oprah interview or why things have taken this long.
Maybe the series, once we finally see it, will turn out to be a masterclass in visual storytelling, grounding the Sussexes’ journey in their humanity. Maybe it will be a tear-jerker that will redefine the genre. Maybe someone right now should be clearing a shelf or three in a certain $20 million California mansion for all the awards that will be coming their way. (Hey, Harry and Meghan are photogenic, willing to emote on cue and seem to view sharing their inner thoughts and feelings as a moral imperative – that’s gotta go a long way to creating TV magic.)
But right now? It’s a rocky road.
So, let’s go back. It’s September 2020 – we were nearly over the pandemic! (Everyone mirthlessly laugh here.) Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s WAP was number one and Harry and Meghan’s popularity could not be higher, having truly stunned the World by turning around and telling the palace quite where they could go with their bridge openings and nude hosiery.
It made perfect sense when on September 2 The New York Times broke the news that the Sussexes had signed a “megawatt” deal with Netflix, whose stock was rocketing up in value thanks to the fact the World had nothing to do but stay indoors and consume content. The company had so much cash it was probably going mouldy in bags in the basement of their Silicon Valley headquarters and the Sussexes, cut off from the royal money teat, were suddenly in need of lots of it. It was a match made in PR heaven.
However, what started as a fairytale corporate romance has lost quite a bit of its spark since then, with the streaming giant having lost about $300 billion (yep, with a ‘b’) in value and their two most famous hires having yet to actually, um, this is awkward, release anything.
There have been plenty of clues that would suggest it has not exactly been smooth sailing so far.
In October, Meghan told industry bible Variety of director Garbus: “It’s nice to be able to trust someone with our story – a seasoned director whose work I’ve long admired – even if it means it may not be the way we would have told it.”
(Page Six has also reported that they “clashed” with her “over the content”.)
There was the Garrett Bradley situation, with a source having said: “There were a few sticky moments between them, and Garrett left the project. Harry and Meghan’s own production company captured as much footage as they could before Liz Garbus was hired.”
And Page Six reported: “This is why the Sussexes were spotted with two different film crews on two trips to NYC last year.”
The death of Queen Elizabeth in September reportedly left the pair “at odds with Netflix and even their own production team” and with them wanting to “backtrack” on what they would “show the public”.
One Netflix source told Page Six that Harry and Meghan had been “having second thoughts on their own story, on their own project,” while another industry source said, “Harry and Meghan are panicked about trying to tone down even the most basic language. But it’s their story, from their own mouths.”
That month the same title also reported that “some of the comments that Harry makes in his upcoming book [are] at odds with what he and his wife said on camera.”
“A lot in the show contradicted what Harry has written, so that was an issue,” a senior Netflix source has said. “Then Harry and Meghan made significant requests [to filmmakers] to walk back content they themselves have provided, for their own project.”
Also recently, Deadline reported that Netflix had been left “rattled” by the level and harshness of criticism directed at the latest series of The Crown, prompting the company to want to push back the release date until 2023.
Here’s an even bigger puzzler: What the dickens are they actually making?
The only projects Netflix has publicly confirmed from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are a documentary about Harry’s hugely successful Invictus games and an animated kids’ show from Meghan which was axed as part of a wide swath of high-profile cancellations.
In September 2020, The Sun reported that they were making a reality show (Selling Sussex? Keeping Up With The King’s Kid?) before the Sussexes promptly denied the report.
Then, a year later in September 2021, the couple were seen with a videographer during a DIY ‘tour’ of New York, during which Harry was spied with a (microphone?) wire running from his back pocket.
Two months later, when the Sussexes returned to New York for Veterans’ Day, the Daily Mail got their deerstalker and pipe out and did some sleuthing, by which I mean they seem to have tasked photographers to dog the Duke and Duchess’s every move.
They reported that the couple was being followed by a three-person crew who “hid their equipment in an apparent attempt to keep the film project under wraps” and that the trip was an “intensely stage-managed outing where the former royals dodged press and tried to restrict pictures to approved photographers”.
Fast forward to May this year and Page Six reported that “the cameras have been allowed behind the scenes at [the Duke and Duchess’s] home in Montecito”.
“I think it’s fair to say that Netflix is getting its pound of flesh,” a “highly placed Hollywood insider” commented this year.
But what is ‘it’?
Earlier this month it was reported that at one point the show had been called Chapters but that the Duke and Duchess had changed their minds. (Such a title, even if it has been kiboshed, would suggest they are working on the sort of show where the words ‘journey’, ‘healing’ and ‘truth’ are going to be thrown with grating ubiquity.)
In August, Meghan herself told The Cut they were making a documentary about “our love story”.
Elsewhere, “a source familiar with the Netflix show” told the Telegraph that the self-exiled couple’s series is “about where they’ve come from, what they’ve been through and where they are”.
“I think it will explain a lot about the decisions they’ve had to make and how they’ve ended up here,” the source said.
Here’s, quite literally, the $148 million question: Will it all be worth it? Will creative visions have aligned to create streaming gold or is Netflix about to be lumped with some show about them mooning over one another while plotting how to change the World in between rounds of matcha lattes? Will it be moving, must-watch viewing or self-involved, navel-gazing drivel with a hint of intellectual pretension?
Will all the reported changes, tweaks and disagreements, not to mention the patience required to wait two long years, pay off?
The good news here is that we should not have long to wait to see whatever it is they have been beavering away on, with Page Six also having reported that the mystery series will debut on December 8.
If only they might one day consider a crossover series. Just imagine what Bridgerton’s Lady Whistledown might have to say about this all …
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and freelance writer. Continue the conversation @DanielaElser
Originally published at www.news.com.au