Meghan Markle’s $130 million disaster
This week, The Queen's Gambit became the most watched limited series ever on Netflix. The chess drama has captured the world's attention and achieved the nearly unthinkable: Making the wonkish board game seem seriously sexy.
However, never for a moment has anyone lost sight of the fact that it's an entirely fictitious creation because really how many real-life championships are that erotically charged?
We know instinctively that this drama is far, far from an accurate depiction of the chess world.
Pity then the hardworking courtiers and aides of Buckingham Palace who have been fighting something of a losing battle in recent weeks over Netflix's other reigning series, The Crown. In November, the fourth series of the award-winning period piece debuted, this time covering the '80s and the introduction of Diana, Princess of Wales into the house of Windsor.
It is an unforgiving, brutal portrayal that shows the Queen as a remote, frosty mother; Prince Charles as a cruel, callous philanderer and Diana as a needy doe-eyed victim used by the royal machine.
For the palace, the series has done devastating damage to their image, with old wounds savagely reopened and former battles dredged up for dramatic effect.
In the aftermath, various establishment figures and veteran royal biographers have lined up to argue that this series, more than the show's previous outings, is not just inaccurate in part but largely a work of fiction, taking substantial, harmful liberties with established fact.
Since then, there has been a growing battle in the UK over whether the series needs to be run with a disclaimer ahead of episodes that makes clear that the multiple Emmy winner is far from a lavish docu-series but essentially just a soap opera, albeit one full of cutglass accents, headscarves and long lingering shots of HRHs looking pensively out of windows. A Game of Throne (singular) if you will.
This week, the UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden weighed in saying that he planned on writing to the streaming giant to ask them to add a "health warning" ahead of episodes so that viewers would not "mistake fiction for fact".
Likewise, Helena Bonham Carter, who plays Princess Margaret, said that the show has a "moral responsibility" to make it clear that the show is a drama.
Now, all of this might just sound like a storm in a Dresden china teacup but there is something much bigger, and more complicated, going on here.
In the wake of The Crown's latest offering being released, Buckingham Palace has staged something that looks remarkably like a concerted fightback.
In what the Daily Mail termed "a series of highly unusual public interventions", friends of Charles launched a scathing, though anonymous, attack on the series.
A palace source told the Mail the show amounted to "trolling with a Hollywood budget" meanwhile, a royal insider revealed, "The Duke of Cambridge is none too pleased with it."
The Mail also reported that William, in particular, is said to feel his parents are being "exploited" and "presented in a false, simplistic way to make money."
A source close to the future king has also said: "In this case, it's dragging up things that happened during very difficult times 25 or 30 years ago without a thought for anyone's feelings. That isn't right or fair, particularly when so many of the things being depicted don't represent the truth."
Sources close to Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, told Vanity Fair: "They're making money out of characterising people who work hard for the nation. If people are using the series as a textbook for royal history that's troublesome."
Meanwhile another "well place source" has said that when it comes to Princes William and Harry, "The feeling is that the latest series would actually be quite sad for them to watch."
(Won't anyone think of all those poor royal 'sources', burning up the phone lines?)
The overall impression is that the palace has been busily marshalling its forces behind the scenes and has mounted a stealthy but powerful PR campaign against Netflix.
That in and of itself would be noteworthy but what makes the royal house's reaction to The Crown that much more interesting is that their adversary in this instance also happens to be Harry and Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's new paymaster.
In September, news broke that the couple had signed what The New York Times termed a "megawatt" contract with the content giant with reports suggesting the former HRHs could ultimately pocket up to $130 million in the deal.
At the time, it was reported they would be making docos, kids shows, and scripted programs with the couple saying in a statement that they would be focusing "on creating content that informs but also gives hope," which all sounds predictably well-intentioned and a bit dull.
Here's where things get appropriately drama-filled: In November, the Mail on Sunday reported the Sussexes had allegedly also been discussing doing a documentary about their new life in the US.
The Mail's royal editor Emily Andrews reported the mooted doco would "centre on the couple's first year after splitting from the royal family, their new life in California and the reasons why they fled Britain.
"According to a well-placed source, the couple have video footage from when they left their Windsor home, Frogmore Cottage, for the final time and their 'farewell tour' at Buckingham Palace. Their representatives are thought to have pitched the footage - including personal videos recorded as they stepped back from royal life - during negotiations with Netflix."
Later, a "Netflix source" told The Sun: "Harry and Meghan's publicity team have gone into overdrive to quash any notion of them filming a tacky reality series.
"Essentially they are splitting hairs. There will be a fly-on-the-wall series but obviously it won't be warts and all, or about their personal life.
"They are very keen to highlight their worthy charity work and cameras will film them going from one good cause to another. For example, when they drop food off at food banks - a camera will be there to capture it."
Despite denying they might be working on a reality series, the very prospect of the duo working on a far more highbrow fly-on-the-wall doco about their new lives would still surely be hanging like a sword of Damocles over the palace.
The alleged frustration, anger and hurt that swirled around the Sussexes' exit from royal life, wouldn't seem to bode well for the royal house's portrayal.
That the palace is not taking this current season of The Crown politely lying down and hoping people will soon forget all about Charles and Camilla's adultery and Her Majesty hardly being Mum of the Year material is significant. The lesson here is, that when push comes to shove, the royal house will fight back and with calculated ferocity.
No more Mr Nice Men in Grey.
So far, Buckingham Palace has maintained a fairly reserved line on the Sussexes as they have made a series of status quo-busting moves such as saying the Commonwealth needs to acknowledge its history of racism; taking what many viewed as an uncomfortably political stance during the recent US presidential election; and releasing photos of their visit to Commonwealth graves at a LA cemetery to mark Remembrance Sunday.
At these various junctures, the palace has either refused to be drawn on the subject; issued some sort of terse, say-nothing reply; or critical comments from unnamed aides and anonymous 'palace sources' have found their way into the copy of certain British journalists.
The adage 'Never complain, never explain' gets wheeled out with boring frequency to try and explain the royal family's tight-lipped stance during various crises or controversies. But that belies the fact that when needs be, when they truly feel a line has been crossed, they will go on the offensive and not take things lying down.
For Harry and Meghan, the lesson here is that the palace can, and will, retaliate if they feel duly threatened.
What this means is that if, and this is a big 'if', they do unveil some sort of series in the future that takes viewers behind the palace gates and into their lives, and if it shows the royal family in a less-than-positive light, the gloves could very well and truly come off.
The question here is, if Harry and Meghan are planning on dramatically pulling back the curtain on their experiences of life in the house of Windsor, how would they respond? With some sort of pro-forma statement or would the royal machine swing into action, marshall their considerable resources and stage a calculated campaign against the show to try and protect the crown?
Keep in mind, the royal family is also a family business and the business they're in is the longevity game. And to achieve that, that might require a certain ruthlessness at times, no matter who is in their crosshairs.
If there is one thing that The Crown has so far failed to truly show is that the Queen and co. are not all just emotionally stunted toffs with an unnatural affection for long bracing Scottish walks but that despite all the manners and curtsying and protocol they are truly a formidable foe.
For centuries, the sovereign used to lead their troops into war. The Queen might not be galloping off on her stead these days but she is clearly still willing to do battle.
Daniela Elser is a royal expert and writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia's leading media titles.
Originally published as Meghan Markle's $130 million disaster