Five Times the Royals Shocked With Behind-the-Scenes Documentaries 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's decision to participate in an explosive docuseries created in partnership with the streaming giant Netflix may have dominated news cycles on its release in December, but they are by no means the first royals to take part in such a project.

Queen Elizabeth II was the first monarch to record the annual Christmas message for television, and she, above any other monarch before her, learned to fully embrace film as a way of democratizing her image and allowing the public to see behind the mask of imperialism.

Members of the Royal Family and Documentaries
Clockwise: Queen Elizabeth II, 1979; King Charles III, 2015; Queen Elizabeth II, 2006; Princess Diana, 1997; (Center) Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, 2018. Many members of the royal family have taken part in documentaries. Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images/Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images/Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Though Elizabeth was greatly loved during her 70-year reign, in part due to how much access she granted the public, she learned to be wary of allowing people to see too-unvarnished an image of the royal family. This lesson was chiefly learned in 1969 when she took part in the first real "royal documentary film," the results of which she is said to have regretted and did not grant permission to be broadcast again.

From Elizabeth to her son, King Charles, and his son, Prince Harry, royals have embraced, and at times been criticized for, their involvement in documentaries. Here, Newsweek looks at five times the royals shocked with behind-the-scenes films.

Royal Family (1969)

In 1968, Queen Elizabeth II consented to a behind-the-scenes documentary to be filmed following her life and the lives of members of her family, chiefly after being persuaded to agree to the project by her husband Prince Philip.

Philip believed the distance between the monarchy and the public should be reduced, with people being allowed to see the sovereign as a real person, which by his reasoning, would help them to relate more with the crown.

The film was shot over the course of a year and covered everything from private family barbecues on the Balmoral Estate in Scotland to state events and ceremonials such as Trooping the Colour.

The documentary was released in June 1969 ahead of the then-Prince Charles' official investiture as Prince of Wales and, in a way, was used to establish Charles in the minds of the people as the next king.

"Royal Family" Film
Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prince Charles and Princess Anne photographed with cameras filming the "Royal Family" documentary film, 1969. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The queen saw and approved the final cut of the film and the crown kept the copyright of the final product which was broadcast to huge popular success in the U.K. and the U.S.

However, for many critics the film was a disaster. With the documentary shining light on the magic of monarchy and removing a barrier of deference, critics argued that now people had seen behind palace walls that they would want to stay there.

The queen's views on the film are not officially known. She is reported to have accepted the criticism and after granting permission for the film to be re-shown on Christmas Day 1969, did not feel it should be released again.

To date, the film has not been officially broadcast since 1977 and is regarded as a turning point in the royals' relationship with the press which viewed the film as an opening of a publicity door that the monarchy has not been able to close since.

Charles: The Private Man, the Public Role (1994)

King Charles' public reputation was dramatically damaged after he participated in his own in-depth documentary film with journalist Jonathan Dimbleby, broadcast on Britain's ITV network in 1994.

The 150-minute film portrayed the life of Charles after his official separation from Diana and was intended to boost his PR following negative reporting around the breakdown of his marriage, particularly focusing on his charity work, his passion for the environment, architecture and views on the future of Britain.

The standout section of the film, however, that would dominate the news coverage was a section where the royal was asked outright if he had tried to be faithful to Princess Diana during their marriage. To this, Charles said that he had, "until it [the marriage] became irretrievably broken down."

The prince was also questioned about his friendship with Camilla Parker Bowles, whom he said was a valued friend and would continue to be so.

The implicit admission of adultery turned many opinions against Charles, and in a British newspaper poll conducted after the film aired, more than one third of the country said that he was not fit to be king. Eighty-two percent of respondents said that Charles and Diana should divorce.

The evening that the documentary aired, Diana appeared at a public engagement wearing what was nicknamed afterwards her "revenge dress," a daring cocktail dress which ensured her photographs were on the front pages the next day alongside headlines about her husband's admission.

The film was later released on VHS.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana Final Tour
Prince Charles and Princess Diana photographed together on their final major royal tour as a married couple in Korea, 1992. Charles addressed the breakdown of his marriage in the 1994 documentary "Charles: The Private Man, the Public Role." Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Diary of a Princess (1997)

One of Princess Diana's lesser known projects was filmed in the months before her death in the form of a public service documentary, raising awareness of her fight to ban the manufacture and use of anti-personnel landmines.

After her divorce in 1996, Diana was reinventing herself from a working royal into a global humanitarian figure and one tool utilized to achieve this was through the filming of a documentary shadowing her highly publicized visit to the Angola minefields in January 1997.

The results of the filming were made into a feature-length documentary titled Diary of A Princess, narrated by Diana herself, and broadcast on February 11, as part of the BBC's Heart of the Matter series.

The documentary was well received but was to be the princess' last as it preceded her untimely death at the age of 36 in a high-speed Paris car crash by just six months.

Princess Diana in Angola
Princess Diana photographed at an Angolan minefield during her red cross visit to the area promoting her anti-landmine work, 1997. The visit was recorded for the documentary "Diary of a Princess". Anwar Hussein Collection/Getty Images

Monarchy: The Royal Family At Work (2007)

Queen Elizabeth II once again opened palace doors to film cameras in 2007, this time to shadow the working lives of members of the royal family including herself and Prince Philip, the then-Prince Charles, Princess Anne and lesser-known royals such as her cousin, the Duke of Gloucester.

The series was filmed over the course of a year and over five episodes followed the queen on a state visit to the U.S. as well as a state banquet in London for the president of Ghana and royal garden parties for members of the public.

The series was a hit with the public but was overshadowed by controversy. Ahead of the show's premiere, the BBC released a trailer which appeared to show the queen frustratedly storming out of a sitting with photographer Annie Leibovitz. In reality, the clip showed the queen walking into the photoshoot, not out.

This led to the BBC and the RDF Television production company issuing apologies to both the queen and Leibovitz for the misrepresentation.

Queen Elizabeth II George W. Bush
Queen Elizabeth II photographed with President George W. Bush during a visit to Washington filmed for the docuseries "Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work," 2007. Win McNamee/Getty Images

Harry & Meghan (2022)

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle signed a multi-million-dollar content creation deal with streaming giant Netflix in 2020, after sensationally stepping away from their working roles within the monarchy and moving to the U.S.

The events that led the couple to make this decision to leave Britain and their work has been retold since in interviews, Harry's book and, in December, a six-episode Netflix docuseries titled Harry & Meghan.

The show contained a number of bombshell claims by the couple against the royal family, including that Prince William screamed and shouted at his brother during an exit meeting and that the royals did not take seriously Meghan's mistreatment by the media.

The series topped charts on either side of the Atlantic and became Netflix's most watched documentary debut in its first week, however, it did not boost the couple's popularity which saw decreases in both the U.S. and U.K as a result.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Netflix Docuseries
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle shown in promotional photographs for their Netflix docuseries "Harry & Meghan," 2022. Netflix

James Crawford-Smith is Newsweek's royal reporter based in London. You can find him on Twitter at @jrcrawfordsmith and read his stories on Newsweek's The Royals Facebook page.

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