Is anyone else surprised by this film?
From the controversial nature of the content and the royal couple to the highly-dramatized promotion of Harry & Meghan: Escaping the Palace -- the third film in Lifetime's royal Harry & Meghan saga -- the expected salacious, soapy sh*tshow barely existed.
A saucy, potentially exploitative recount of the controversial, forbidden romance between a rogue prince and his royally infamous wife felt more like a subtler tale of two warring brothers headed down markedly different paths.
The third film in this trilogy focused on the crucial events that prompted Harry and Meghan to flee the monarchy in a sea of controversy that they've yet overcome.
For better and worse, these films, much like the couple in question, are polarizing and often elicit discussion and criticism.
And this time around, it seemed as if they were cognizant of that, delivering a more subdued flick that leaned in Harry and Meghan's favor while also presenting some aspects of why an entire country deemed Meghan's presence subversive at best.
But while the film touched on Meghan's plight as an outcast in the monarchy and sped through some of her struggles from Archie's birth onward, surprisingly, most of the film revolved heavily around Harry, their relationship through his eyes, and his family.
And hell, aside from some cringe-worthy dialogue on occasion, terrible hair situations here and there, Jordan Dean's oscillating accent, and William's bordering on cartoonish villainy, the film showed far more restraint than one would expect.
It gave us something far more grounded than the dishy, popcorn-tease of shameless, teeth-gnashing extraness that one would've anticipated.
On the one hand, boo and hiss for the utter lack of cheese and camp. Hmph!
On the other hand, I'll tip a hat for this bit of unexpectedness, even though Jordan Whalen tried his damnedest to deliver on the theatrics with his delightfully hokey performance of William's mustache-twirling villainy.
Thanks for the ham, sir. It was magical.
He also had some help from William and Kate's manager, or whatever the official title was, Victoria, who had some of the cheekiest and biting lines as the Cambridge's personal Mean Girl.
Say what you will about the atrocious dialogue-- but her derisive delivery of "you think she knows she only played a lawyer on the Goggle Box" was oozing with prom queen bitchiness and elicited a chortle.
Otherwise, the film took itself so seriously that there was little room for actual fun. But then the opener of Harry having a nightmare of Meghan dying in that car crash that killed his mother set the tone for the rest of the film.
And they damn near overdid drawing all of the parallels between Princess Diana and Meghan.
We've seen so many of them, to the point of it bordering on eerie but also confirming how suffocating the royal life is and what it can do to a person's mental health, especially when they can't subscribe to the status quo and traditions even when they try.
We saw a flashback to when Meghan contemplated throwing herself down the stairs, interspersed with flashes of when Diana did the same. We got Meghan stuck in that crash via Henry's nightmare and flashes of similar instances between Meghan and Diana.
They sold the reminder that while far more scandalous than the People's Princess, Meghan embodied some similar qualities and an appeal that made her charisma infectious to those outside the royal bubble.
The parallels between this American Princess and the People's Princess were heavily implied -- including the criticism that Meghan was some disrupter there to challenge an archaic system by daring to be herself.
They led us to believe that Meghan's mere existence within their family put the entire monarchy at stake! However, the threat that Meghan posed was such a stark contrast from the fragile, demure woman they presented to us.
I don't know if it was deliberate and thus clever or unsettling that while everyone spoke of this calculated, imposing, and brash American warrior woman, we saw a vulnerable wife and mother that deferred to her husband and needed saving more than anything else.
It harkens to the real Meghan's statements during the Oprah interview about how her real-life prince saved her.
It was a tricky balancing act, not wanting to cater to the strong Black woman narrative that is inherently harmful in its way, which could very well play too much into the racial undertones and dog whistles blown Meghan's way in the first place.
Obviously, the deep-seated racism in conjunction with the classist and culturally phobic aspects of Meghan's existence there made her experience unprecedented.
But in some ways, Meghan's signature strength felt muted. Of course, maybe that was the point. They wanted to depict how much she was crumbling beneath the weight of never being enough, bits of her identity stripped from her at every turn.
Unfortunately, despite the voiceovers and quiet moments, and to no fault of Sydney Morton, Meghan disappeared in this story.
But at the very least, her relationship with Harry felt like more of a partnership, albeit with Harry taking the lead, compared to whatever was going on with William and Kate. But more on that momentarily.
And try as Dean and Morton might to sell the emotion, stress, and fear behind the Sussex couple's experience, the film spent too much time bouncing around. It attempted to hit each significant point we heard or read about rather than give all of those moments then and in between breathing room to feel the gravitas of it all.
More often than not, it contributed to the feeling that we were watching two different films in one. The scenes with William, Kate, Charles, and "The Firm" felt campier than the time we spent with Harry, Meghan, and Dorothy.
But for Meghan and Harry, Meghan's specific plight largely felt glossed over, and it instead shifted to how Harry felt about it and what he planned to do.
Nothing Meghan did was right or good enough, and the pressure of the scrutiny she faced stressed Harry out. The moment he snapped at her during one of their events showcased that.
They weren't allowed any slip-ups, but in the end, he realized it didn't matter what she did anyway. No matter what, she was tabloid fodder. And we got the distinct impression that the Firm or whomever gaslit both of them the entire time.
But we also didn't see the full extent of any of that beyond the occasional grousing over an article and everyone talking about how whiny they were for not keeping composed.
We hear about the attempts made to get help or the endless times both tried to do something about it, but we never see any of that. It's sacrificed for a film that merely wanted to be a highlight reel.
In essence, we don't see much of Meghan's battle at all, or the full extent of it, with the story relying on dialogue to convey things more than showing us.
But we're privy to hints at special moments like her service in other countries that brought her joy and fulfillment.
We get this barely-there moment of significance she shares with her husband after a personal addendum to a speech she gave in South Africa commiserating with these young girls as a fellow woman of color.
It was the first time she discussed her identity in a long time because of the inherent shame she felt at even acknowledging her Blackness under the Crown's thumb.
We also get that moment of frustration when she learned her Vogue cover she edited to include many faces of inspiring women of color and a mirror for the viewer to see themselves on the cover, got scrapped.
But they're moments that don't land as they should or go anywhere. They're too understated.
Escaping the Palace also didn't seem to know how to present the relationship between Meghan and Kate, let alone Kate altogether.
Kate toggled drastically between a complicit antagonist whom they alluded to playing some games with the press against Meghan, imperious and annoyed with Meghan's inability to bend to what was expected of them, to a sympathetic comrade.
In the first half of the film, Kate had a seat at the table. She was a snobbish extension of her husband, and she didn't express any genuine interest in Meghan or her "histrionics" at all.
It was heavily implied that she was behind a leak to the press that tore Meghan apart and relished that the tabloids suggested that Kate and Meghan weren't friends.
By the second half of the film, Kate attempted to subvert some of the tensions and escalating pressures applied to Harry and Meghan from all sides.
She came across as tragically submissive to William, meekly making diplomatic suggestions while stroking his back and ego and visibly perturbed by the insensitivity directed at Meghan.
She also came across as someone who may have suffered silently under the pressures of marrying into the royal life as well, and perhaps a woman who quietly admired Meghan's ability to stir up the status quo.
In a way, that extended to William, who despised everything he felt Meghan stood for while simultaneously wanting to mimic many of the things Meghan and Harry did and were to appeal to the people.
The heart of the film was the tension between the two brothers. It seemed Meghan's presence stirred up the centuries-old royal dissonance among heirs and "the spares."
The inevitable uncorking of a lifetime of differences, sibling rivalry, and resentment of roles came to a pass, and Harry's marriage to Meghan was a mere vessel.
Harry was regarded as a rascal, the rebellious prince who rarely bent to the will of his duties and centuries of tradition, but since he wasn't in line to be king, most things didn't matter.
In a sense, they shouldn't have, which made the brewing tension between Harry and William and the Firm odd in a way. They didn't want Harry to complain about anything that was going on.
They didn't want Harry to step out and defy the strict set of rules and protocols, but they wanted to micromanage his and Meghan's responses and emotions, dismissing them rather than giving them any space to cope.
And every solution that Harry came up with to minimize the onslaught of issues he and Meghan faced, they slapped down, put off, ignored, or downright got angry.
They wanted Harry to fall in line. And his refusal to do so while simultaneously getting ignored and dismissed scandalized everyone.
The notion was that Harry got backed into a corner after no one heeding his pleas nor how triggered he felt as he relived the trauma of losing his mother.
For as many parallels drawn between Meghan and Diana, we saw more between Harry and his mother.
It was more pronounced than anything else as he retraced steps that she walked, places she'd been, and barreled down the path she started with bucking against the age-old monarchy, firm, and the restrictive system.
As the kiddies say, she ran so he could fly, and he did, across the ocean and away from the monarchy and family in some form of exile that felt like freedom.
And that was unfathomable to his brother, who affirmed the notion that The Firm, monarchy, and family are indistinguishable, and you don't leave them.
We got the impression that The Firm was like the mafia. And somehow William was potentially the mob boss or don, but the notion of The Firm, who it comprises, and the extent of what they were was as murky and muddled here as during the Oprah interview.
If there was a villain in this movie, it wasn't so much the paparazzi or the Queen -- it was William.
His motivations were to protect and uphold the monarchy because of his future role as king, and he felt his rogue brother, or rather Meghan, jeopardized it.
Interestingly, William essentially confirmed that Harry always dreamed of cutting ties and leaving this life that felt like a burden to him behind. William resented that Meghan finally gave him a reason to make this seemingly impossible dream come to fruition.
Otherwise, William would've been fine if his brother was unhappy as long as he put up and shut up about it.
But we also got some fascinating insight into William, as they attempted to add a bit of depth to his stance. He brought up his anger and resentment that his mother aired out their dirty laundry publically and embarrassed the family.
To William, his mother wasn't the tragic victim that Harry saw her as but rather a troublemaker. And his father's longstanding relationship with Camilla while married wasn't an issue, but Diana's dalliance outside of her marriage was the real crime.
In a sense, William's cartoonish antagonism felt as if they could've avoided all of this if William let his brother go, respected his wishes, or compromised in any remote way.
But instead, it devolved into this bizarre tit-for-tat, one-upmanship, seemingly one-sided sibling beef between an obstinate future king and his desperate, anxiety-ridden brother.
The rift between the family was between the two, and the others orbited around that. Charles paid a passive role, and the Queen had very little presence beyond slightly scolding William for his suspected scheming.
But leaving the country, relocating from Canada, temporarily residing at Tyler Perry's home, and more -- before that fateful interview and beyond, it was evident throughout the film that Harry was in the driver's seat.
He spearheaded it all, saw an opportunity he waited for his entire life and seized it, despite some of the repercussions not being as he hoped.
Escaping the Palace was really a tale of how a rebellious prince summoned strength because of his love for his wife and child to finally break the chains of the royal life that confined him and do the inevitable.
And how everyone blamed Meghan for his choices.
Over to you, Lifetime Fanatics. Did this film surprise you? What would you grade it? Hit the comments below and let us know all of your thoughts!
Jasmine Blu is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.