You’d be forgiven for assuming that Prince Harry’s latest team-up with Oprah Winfrey is an unofficial sequel to his explosive tell-all interview, albeit this time without his wife Meghan. The trailer for Apple TV+’s The Me You Can’t See, executive produced by the Prince and Winfrey, feels heavy with the weight of more palace revelations to come, and as the first episode of the docu-series opens, we’re met with a familiar set-up: TV royalty and British royalty sit across from one another, dressed in complementary shades of light blue, ready to open up in another televised therapy session.
But although this five-part series leans heavily on Harry’s experiences, its focus is much wider, telling stories of a spread of documentary subjects (some famous - including Lady Gaga, basketball star DeMar DeRozan and Glenn Close - and some not) whose lives have been shaped by mental health issues. Harry and Winfrey’s mission statement is repeated over and over: that telling these stories - of depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD and more - on a major public platform will encourage more people to speak out, helping themselves or others, resulting in a ripple effect of destigmatisation. “When you share the story… you see yourself differently and you end up helping so many more people,” Harry says.
We begin with the Prince, whose sit-down chats with Oprah loosely anchor each episode. Their discussions inevitably retread some of the territory explored in that first bombshell interview, but here - away from the advert break cliffhanger format necessitated by network television - there is more space for reflection, and Harry’s memories seem more specific, more painfully acute.
Whatever your thoughts on his recent post-palace media tour, it’s impossible not to feel for the young boy who had to “share the grief of [his] mother’s death with the world” (“this was my mum, you never even met her,” he says, recalling a global outpouring of grief that must have been unbearably dissonant to a 12-year-old) and can still hear the “sound of the horses’ hooves going along the Mall” before her funeral.
He goes on to discuss a “nightmare time” in his life, in his late twenties and early thirties, when he’d suffer from “panic attacks, severe anxiety” and turned to drinking and drugs “to make me feel less like I was feeling.” Meeting his future wife prompted him to seek therapy, he explains, after he “reverted back to 12-year-old Harry” when they argued.
His story is interspersed with other gruellingly honest testimonies, less likely to make headlines but no less moving. A college student struggles to open up to her mum about her depression; chef Rashad Armstead speaks about how a “taboo” around therapy in the black community made him internalise his struggles, and segments focusing on Team USA boxer Ginny Fuchs show us the reality of living with OCD - and the devastating physical impact it can have. One particularly bad episode, before a championship, sees her unable to sleep for more than a couple of hours in between her training and compulsive cleaning.
Though her probing discussions with Harry position her once again in the role of interviewer-stroke-de facto therapist, it’s also interesting to see Winfrey reveal her own blind spots around mental health. We meet Alex, a young woman who the megastar has supported over the past 16 years, eventually helping her find psychiatric support for her PTSD. With Alex about to leave her facility, she video calls her mentor, but becomes frustrated by her line of questioning. “Sometimes I feel like she just doesn’t get it,” she sighs. Another painful moment sees Winfrey, herself a survivor of sexual abuse, recall her feeling of powerlessness when one third of the young girls in a class at her school in South Africa revealed they had been assaulted.
The film, which treats its subjects with sensitivity and compassion, is undeniably serving an important purpose, but extended discussion of trauma inevitably makes for heavy viewing. Sometimes, too, it’s hard to see where this is all going, aside from the much-stated aim of sharing and destigmatising difficult stories. Much has already been made of Harry’s decision to show his EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) therapy session on camera, and these scenes go some way in alluding towards what happens after speaking out about mental health struggles.
But while so many of the talking heads featured in The Me You Can’t See espouse the importance of therapy, almost all of them fail to allude to the structures and systems that ensure this kind of treatment remains out of reach for so many people who are struggling. It’s left to Lady Gaga to gesture towards this inequality in a to-camera interview, when she acknowledges her “privilege… money... power”. Cutting between a royal and a refugee camp feels like a strange decision, too. It’s oversights and choices like these that ultimately limit the series’ exploration of mental health: what could have been a powerful call-to-arms ends up mired in a well-meaning limbo.
The Me You Can’t See is available to stream on Apple TV+ now