Although suffering from a bad back, I'm still determined to Save The Movies.
Huzzah, movie lovers.
After being unexpectedly laid up with a bad back (don't ask), I read Finding Freedom: Harry and Meghan and the Making of a Modern Royal Family by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand so you don't have to.
While other commentators saw Finding Freedom is A) an attack on the House of Windsor or B) an airing of petty grievances via unnamed "friends" and unidentified "sources" or C) a rebuke to the stuffy and stodgy ways Buckingham Palace handles its internal affairs, I disagree. Instead, after reading the book, I believe Finding Freedom is a romance novel--a romance novel for the post-modern age, where leaving the royal orbit is how its protagonists will live "happily ever after."
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex have repeatedly insisted they had no part in the writing of this book. That may be true. However, after reading it, I became convinced someone else did: romance scribbler Danielle Steel, the author of 146 romance novels herself. Now, if Steele didn't collaborate or contribute to Finding Freedom, then authors Scobie and Durand must be deeply influenced by her writing style. How else can you explain passages like this: "Harry... almost froze when he walked in the room and saw Meghan...It wasn't just her charming freckles, perfect smile or American accent. Meghan is someone who works a room very well. In social settings, all eyes are drawn to her. She laughs a little louder, she glows a little bit brighter..."
The critics were wrong: Finding Freedom is a romance novel, not a revenge attack on the House of Windsor.
Or when Scobie and Durand breathlessly declare: "Bringing Meghan to Botswana, one of the most sacred and special places in his life, was a symbol of how (Harry) felt about her."
Or when Meghan confides to "a friend": "I've never felt that safe...that close to someone in such a short amount of time."
Or when the authors confide, "With Meghan, (Harry) knew she wasn't trying to impress him. He felt he was getting the real Meghan from day one."
See what I mean?
In fact, even the chapter titles sound like romance novels: "Courtship in the Wild", "A Prince's Stand", "Farewell Toronto". If authors Scobie and Durand hadn't written this book, I'm convinced Danielle Steel would've.
"Writer's Block": What would Danielle Steel do?
In fact, I think she already has. See, while reading Finding Freedom, I kept thinking back to Danielle Steel's tome HRH (reviewed in this very blog). It's about a princess named Christianne who longs to transcend the bounds of her position and make a difference in the world. Harry reminded me of the Christianne character. Meghan, meanwhile, reminded me of HRH's Parker, a dashing doc (and commoner) who loves Christianne for herself and shares her humanitarian impulses. As authors Scobie and Durand detail, Meghan and Harry bonded over these connections, too.
The deeper I got into the book, the more similarities between Finding Freedom and HRH I found.
For example, authors Scobie and Durand describe Markle as being smart, beautiful, caring, talented, driven, prepared, careful with money, a healthy eater and a great luggage packer. This echoed how Steel described Christianne, who was also smart, beautiful, caring, talented, driven, prepared, careful with money, a healthy eater and a clever luggage packer. Prince Harry, meanwhile, is described as a tall, handsome, sensitive, brave, ginger army vet/royal "spare" who wants to use his position to make the world a better place. Surprise, surprise, this is how Parker was described--except he wasn't a ginger army vet or a royal spare (he did come from a wealthy Boston family, though).
Finding Freedom begins in 2016, with "Suits" co-star Meghan headed over to London for a trip that included shoe shopping, a list of people and places she wanted to visit and, oh, yeah, a blind date. With HRH Prince Harry of Wales. A mutual friend had set them up. We're reassured that Meghan went to this meeting with no preconceived notions or fixed ideas; if the date came to nothing, it would still a "fun evening."
As we all know, sparks flew and Harry wasted no time letting Meghan know he was interested. Very interested. And Meghan found the prince "adorable" and just loved his cute little ghost emojis.
Nobody is more in love than Meghan Markle and Prince Harry. Nobody!
The couple's relationship progressed quickly and "organically". The authors point out that by the time Harry met Meghan, he'd changed considerably "from the impulsive prince" of his early youth into a "man...ready to find love." And Meghan? "It was clear to everyone who knew her how happy Meghan was--even her hair colorist." Said colorist Louis Pacheco: "She looked so sweet and tender--she had this glow about her."
Romance novels always take readers to lavish locations, and Finding Freedom is no exception. Early on, Harry takes Meghan to Meno A Kwena on the edge of Makgadikgadi Pans National Park in Botswana. There our cuddlemates stayed in "one of the $1, 957 a-night deluxe tents", allowing the authors to wax rhapsodic about their "fully equipped en suite bathroom", which featured "solar powered hot water, pressurized showers and Egyptian cotton towels."
Other assignations were equally dreamy. Once, the couple stayed in a "private four-bedroom cottage" in Oxfordshire. Later on, they spent a weekend at Babington House, "an 18th century manor house in Somerset" that came with it's own butler! In October, the duo partied at SoHo House in Toronto "surrounded by the establishment's exclusive clientele" protected by "Venetian-style masks." Then there was a jaunt to Livingston, Zambia, where the cuddlemates bunked in a "modern villa", where Meghan practiced her yoga "while an exotic flock of birds that looked as if they just had their tails dipped in pots of colorful paints" squawked near-by.
Of course, Meghan and Harry's idyll can't last forever. In yet another similarity to HRH, the couple are unexpectedly "outed" by the press while doing something ordinary. In HRH, Christianne and Parker were snapped leaving a fancy hotel by paps waiting for Madonna. In Finding Freedom, Harry and Meghan were lensed as they hurried their way through traffic to get to the theater (sure, it turns out the photog was secretly trailing the couple, but I still think it's close enough).
Once Meghan and Harry are snapped together, the jig is up. Sadly, much of the press reaction is ugly and racist. Even worse is how the House of Windsor reacts. Kate is surprisingly cool and uninterested in learning about the gal "who has made Harry so happy." Wills is supportive, at first, but wastes no time warning his kid bro to slow down and really "get to know this girl." One of Harry's best buds (a chap called "Skippy") says the same thing. Harry is hurt by all this.
Prince Harry is disappointed his snobbish, inbred relatives aren't happy for him.
The courtiers of Buckingham Palace (called "the grey men") are no better. In fact, they are even worse. They refer to Meghan as "Harry's showgirl" and whisper that "she comes with a lot of baggage." The grey men think nothing of taking Meghan to task to sporting a necklace with "H" and "M" initials, claiming such a display would only "encourage" press speculation. A meeting to discuss the best way our cuddlemates could "officially" be seen together is marked by "flip-flopping" and dithering (at least to Meghan) by Harry's staff. However, when Harry takes it upon himself to release a statement decrying the racist harassment Meghan has been subjected to, the grey men blow a gasket. Didn't HRH realize how releasing such a statement would completely over-shadow Charles and Camilla's current tour? How thoughtless could he be?! (Indeed, Charles was miffed, although he understood where Harry was coming from.)
All romance novels have obstacles their characters must over-come in order to be happy and HRH and Finding Freedom have those, too.
In HRH, Christianne is forbidden to marry a non-royal. This was her dying mother's wish and Christianne's princely father feels duty-bound to honor it. Parker, as noted earlier, is a swell guy, but he's not royal. What's more, the crown of Christianne's principality passes through the male side of the family. Thus, when Christianne's father and brother are killed by terrorists, the royal house faces a stark choice: break with centuries of tradition and allow a female monarch or dismantle their monarchy all together.
For Meghan and Harry, things are more complex.
In a nutshell, the Sussex's came to see Buckingham Palace as giving short-shift to their royal needs. Whether refusing to confront false stories about Harry (but mostly) Meghan directly, denying the Sussex's their own independent "household" staffed with their "own team", seeing their projects either "delayed" or under-funded or wanting to "control the narrative" by using their own Instagram account, Harry and Meghan repeatedly felt dismissed or side-lined by courtiers. Although the authors insist Harry and Meghan respected "the hierarchy of the monarchy" and that "no work place is perfect", they still felt their value to the royal family as an institution wasn't appreciated.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex felt let down by the House of Windsor...so they headed for North America.
As for the royal family as a family, Finding Freedom depicts them as chilly and stand-offish, not the type to inquire how people are faring during tough times and repeatedly failing to offer vital emotional support. Case in point: Kate sent Meghan flowers on her birthday, "which was nice" the authors acknowledge, but Meg would rather have had her sister-in-law check in on her personally and ask how she was handling stuff. It's clear from Finding Freedom that the royal family doesn't do "emotions." Which is odd, since Wills, Kate and Harry have made a big show of trying to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness (especially for men) and supporting mental health charities for young people.
So the solution for both our couples was to break with tradition and create a new "working royal" model.
For Christianne, that means becoming her principality's first female ruler AND marrying her commoner doctor boyfriend Parker. For Harry and Meghan, it meant "stepping back" from their roles as "senior working royals" and decamping to North America where they plan to "support her majesty" and become "financially independent" by doing their own thing (like "smart speaking engagements" and deals with Netflix). For a year. Then Buckingham Palace will review the arrangement and decide what to do next (Harry and Meghan still got to keep their HRH titles, they just can't use them).
Happily ever after? Well, we'll have to wait and see.
OK, kiddies, I've made my case. Do you agree that Finding Freedom is the best romance novel Danielle Steel has never written? If so, drop me a line and let me know.
Until next time, movie lovers, please always remember and never forget, that uneasy is the head that wears the crown--or a tiara. Please wash your hands, wear a face mask and, above all, SAVE THE MOVIES!