The engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle caused a media frenzy in November 2017, and Lifetime took notice. The cable channel immediately fast-tracked a film about the unlikely couple – him a member of the British royal family and she a divorced biracial American actress – and gave the writers just two weeks to submit a first draft.
"But it reads like we wrote it in three," co-writer Scarlett Lacey joked at a press conference for the movie held Thursday at the Beverly Hills Peninsula.
The film, premiering May 13, charts the romance of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (played by Murray Fraser and Parisa Fitz-Henley, respectively) from the early secretive days of their relationship to the engagement that grabbed headlines around the world. The film comes six days ahead of the couple's May 19 nuptials.
The film cut other corners as well, subbing Vancouver for Great Britain and Simi Valley for Africa, but the creative team did intense research on the couple, compiling a Google document with links to old interviews, videos and other appearances. "There were plenty of lawyers who looked over everything," said executive producer Michele Weiss, "…and we cleared."
Although there were certain areas where Lacey and co-writer Terrence Coli took "artistic license" in Lacey's words, the duo insist they didn't stray too far from Harry and Markle's real, and documented, love story. "There was so much drama in the real story, we didn't have to make a lot up," Coli said. "It almost feels like we cheated in a way."
While people may think they know the story of the famed couple, Fraser said the film would show a new side of the two – a more private side "behind closed doors," he said. (Yes, that includes a sex scene, or a "love scene," as Weiss called it.)
For Harry, that meant showing how his mother's death affected him and his relationship with Markle. Princess Diana, who died in a car crash in 1997, is part of the film. "She's such a large factor for him that we had to have her somehow in the movie," executive producer Merideth Finn said.
For Markle, that included a focus on her identity as a biracial woman and as a feminist. "It had to have a strong feminist point of view," Lacey said.
As a British native familiar with the royal family, she was particularly inspired by reading an Elle essay Markle wrote about her racial identity and watching a speech she gave at the United Nations about female empowerment. "I just thought, 'Holy crap this woman is everything,' " Lacey recalled. "I was excited to try and put her into the world that I grew up with and see how is she going to react to those inevitable moments that are going to be quite tricky? There's a reason I live in California."
But the real question is how the royal family will, or won't, react to the film. "We admire the couple so we hope that they watch it and think that it's funny and that it's sweet and that we hit on the historical import of the moment," Weiss said diplomatically. "
Lacey had a different response.
"They're pretty worried about the film," she said, "and I'm pretty sure they're going to watch it. They'll probably turn it in a royal drinking game."