The moment that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry dramatically announced their decampment from royal life, Lifetime’s Powers That Be were making a flurry of phone calls. On Labor Day, the soapy channel premiered its third movie in the Sussex trilogy—Harry and Meghan: Escaping the Palace, starring franchise newbies Sydney Morton and Jordan Dean.
While Netflix’s The Crown gets some distance from the time periods it depicts, Lifetime’s trilogy covers history as it’s being written. 2018’s Harry and Meghan: A Royal Romance, which explored the pair’s origins and engagement, aired just a week before the couple’s real-life Windsor wedding. Then came 2019’s Becoming Royal—a peek into the royal nuptials and Markle’s first year as Duchess. Director Menhaj Huda and writer Scarlett Lacey have shepherded all three ripped-from-the-headlines tales, albeit with different actors in the lead roles for each iteration. Naturally, Escaping the Palace imagines the familial and societal pressures that led Meghan and Harry to consciously uncouple from the British monarchy.
Ahead, how Lifetime’s trilogy-making movie portrays Meghan and Harry’s exit, vilifies Prince William, and (slyly) addresses the Prince Andrew scandal.
Escaping the Palace Can’t Shake Diana’s Ghost
Released on the 24th anniversary of Lady Di’s funeral, this film goes to great lengths in drawing parallels between Princess Diana and Markle. The opening scene shows paparazzi flashbulbs flickering over an overturned vehicle in a tunnel. A man struggles to get the car door open as a woman fights for her life inside. While the moment mirrors Diana’s tragic 1997 death, it’s actually Prince Harry battling to save a wounded Markle before he wakes from his nightmare. “You’ve been having a lot of bad dreams, H,” Morton says in her pitch-perfect Meghan voice.
Diana’s shadow is cast over the entire movie, which often flashes back to painful moments in her royal life. The most heavy-handed and potentially exploitative of these parallels is in depicting both Diana and Meghan’s suicidal thoughts. In their Oprah interview, Meghan shared that her ideations about ending her life were “real and frightening and constant,” becoming unbearable the night she and Harry attended a performance at Royal Albert Hall in January 2019. In Escaping the Palace, a pregnant Meghan is shown contemplating her fate over a steep staircase, just as Diana reportedly did. (The film also ends not with a Harry and Meghan moment, but footage from the July unveiling of Diana’s statue to honor her 60th birthday.)
One Character Represents All of The Firm’s Evil Actors
To hear Meghan and Harry tell it, several palace aides quarreled with them and leaked negative stories to the tabloids. Lifetime casts fictional Cambridges aid Victoria as a fictional amalgamation of them all, given that the Sussexes never named names. Sporting a severe updo and dark-hued pantsuits (the universal sign of a corporate baddie), Victoria is blamed for omitting Meghan and Harry from Queen Elizabeth’s filmed Christmas address and hiring bots to boost Kate and William’s Instagram presence.
But Victoria’s most maniacal moment comes when she decides to eliminate all mentions of Harry and Meg from the Royal Foundation website. “We shall use what I believe is called ‘cancel culture,’” she states, following the pair’s emotional ITV documentary during their tour of Southern Africa. William (played by Jordan Whalen) retorts, “You don’t exactly cancel the most woke bloke and his feminist bride.” Victoria ensures that the palace “can cancel their royalness,” adding, “You leave the Firm, you leave the family.”
Lifetime Tackles Royal Racism
From the start, Harry and William’s royal rift is linked to the racist treatment Meghan receives from the British press. While the palace prefers its figures remain neutral, an impassioned Harry tells William: “You need to bloody well make a statement with me decrying racism. As future king, you need to push on this horrific bullying.” William largely dismisses his brother’s pleas. “What causes problems isn’t color, it’s culture,” he argues. “Meg is American. She acts more like a celebrity than a royal, and she doesn’t seem to appreciate the difference.” What Lifetime doesn’t do is speculate about who asked “how dark” Archie’s skin might be, as shared in Harry and Meghan’s Oprah interview. Instead, William refers to that person only as “they.”
Prince William Is Enemy No. 1
As evidenced by the above, William doesn’t come off well in Escaping the Palace. From outrage over Meghan and Harry choosing a non-royal name for baby Archie to visiting the newborn without his own brood, fictional William is positioned as the couple’s main detractor. The feeling appears to be mutual. “He’s the king of the castle and I’m the dirty rascal,” Lifetime’s Harry says at one point, referencing both a nursery rhyme and Dave Matthews Band lyric in one swoop.