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Fortunately, Prince Harry’s dubious claims about therapy and war service don’t derail moving ‘Hearth of Invictus’

Fortunately, Prince Harry’s dubious claims about therapy and war service don’t derail moving ‘Hearth of Invictus’

Prince Harry’s anticipated new Netflix collaboration, “Heart of Invictus,” manages to tug heartstrings and deliver uplifting messages about human resilience — when it turns its focus away from him and instead spotlights a handful of injured military veterans who have faced extraordinary challenges to compete in the 2022 Invictus Games.

Perhaps it’s to be expected but Harry, the show’s executive producer and the Invictus Games’ founding patron, can’t help but use some of the screen time to slip in some well-known grievances that deal with his professed history of therapy and his antipathy towards the royal family and the British media. These complaints prove momentarily distracting, because they’ve become repetitive and because they don’t add up upon close inspection.

It’s probably necessary to give Harry so much screen time, given that he’s the name brand for the Invictus Games, which return Sept. to in Dusseldorf, Germany, and for the five-part documentary series. At certain points, Harry’s commentary is useful, as when it provides a narrative context for some of the themes of resilience and mental health fitness. More than that, the Duke of Sussex can be a very effective spokesperson for the international games, when he sticks to talking about how they provide a powerful, multidisciplinary form of rehab for physically and mentally injured military personnel and when he explains how the unifying challenges of sport can help people overcome traumatic experiences.

“It’s not all about Invictus, though, is it? How can it be? While the struggles of the ex-military personnel profiled in the first instalment are hugely emotive, they ultimately and unfortunately function as filler between the Harry stuff” https://t.co/htmB9uaqRM

— Patricia Treble (@PatriciaTreble) August 30, 2023

But the series could have done without stretches in which Harry, a divisive figure who was recently labeled “a grifter” by a well-known U.S. media personality, delves into his personal history and makes certain questionable claims about his time in Afghanistan.

In Episode 2, which focuses on the “Invisible Injuries” of post-traumatic stress, Harry said he received no “support” for the PTSD he experienced after his service in Afghanistan, which he says was rooted in the 1997 death of his mother Princess Diana when he was 12. While Harry doesn’t name his family directly, the series shows famous video of Harry, Prince William and King Charles viewing wreathes for Diana outside Buckingham Palace, as if to suggest the royal family is blame for his lack of mental health support. Harry is heard saying,  “No one could help” when he was silently burying his grief, and “I didn’t have that support structure, that network or that expert advice to identify what was actually going on with me.”

What doesn’t add up with these statements is that Harry himself revealed in 2017 — prior to his marriage to Meghan Markle and their stormy, 2020 exit from the royal family — that his brother William, from whom he is now estranged, was the catalyst for seeking therapy.

In a widely disseminated podcast interview with Telegraph writer Bryony Gordon, Harry explained how his process of healing began before he met Meghan. “For me personally, my brother… bless him, he was a huge support to me,” Harry said in the “Mad World” podcast. “He kept saying this is not right, this is not normal, you need to talk to (someone) about stuff, it’s OK.’

Earlier in the series, Harry complains that the UK media ignored stories about British soldiers wounded in Afghanistan. He said, about seeing injured soldiers in 2008: “I was angry that the media weren’t covering it.”

Actually, British military deaths and injuries in Afghanistan were extensively reported on, and made front page news, the Daily Mail reported. Reports were compiled from official announcements published by the Ministry of Defense, which provided photographs and tributes from commanding officers. Many war correspondents also put their lives at risk covering conflicts in Afghanistan since 1992, with 79 killed, and many more wounded, the Daily Mail said, citing the Committee to Protect Journalists,

Also in the series, Harry suggested that the U.K. press ruined his deployment in Afghanistan in 2008. Given that he was the grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, it was considered a security risk for him to serve on the front lines, but he was allowed to go anyway for 10 weeks because it was “kept a secret,” he said. He also said the British media agreed to keep quiet about his presence there, as long as they gained “access” to him.

Harry said he spent “weeks on the ground in the sand with all the others,” but the series shows that he was was suddenly removed from Afghanistan “when news of his deployment leaked.” Harry suggested that the U.K. media betrayed him, saying,  “To suddenly been the way home, I was angry.”

What Harry doesn’t mention is that the UK media kept his deployment a secret but his cover was blown by the U.S. website, the Drudge Report, in a “world exclusive” and by the Australian women’s magazine, New Idea, The Guardian reported at the time. 

Fortunately, the Oscar-nominated director of “Heart of Invictus,” Orlando von Einsiedel, or someone else involved in the series, keeps enough of a grip on Harry to limit his discussion of personal vendettas, which “can pollute the atmosphere,” as The Guardian’s critic Lucy Manger said.

Certainly, Harry deserves credit for founding the Invictus Games, which have proved to be a force for good in the world, and for providing a platform for veterans to share their stories. “Heart of Invictus” becomes meaningful when it moves away from the duke, which leaves the series to follow a handful Invictus competitors from around the world. They have spent years trying to overcome the visible and invisible injuries left by their military service, which have resulted in depression, anxiety, addiction, physical limitations and ongoing physical pain.

It’s hard not to be moved by the story of Tom Folwell, a British army veteran who lost his legs to an IED in Afghanistan and who relies on wheelchair rugby to provide an outlet for his pain and anger. There’s also Gabe George, a retired U.S. Navy corpsman who lives in constant physical torment after losing an arm in a random road accident. But he’s training to compete in archery.

Meanwhile, the series builds authentic suspense and heartbreak around the looming war in Ukraine, as it follows the story of Yuliia “Taira” Paievska, who is first introduced as a volunteer paramedic on the Ukrainian-Russian border. A magnetic presence, Paievska is a veteran of Russia’s 2014 invasion of Crimea and is trying to adjust to civilian life by training for the 2022 Ukrainian Invictus team.  But after Russia invades Ukraine in February 2022, Paievska is captured, used in propaganda videos by the Russian military and forced to endure months of torture.

The publicity of the 2022 Games helped secure her release, and the series wisely chooses to close with her testimonial, instead of taking viewers back to Harry. “Everyone who goes through captivity, who have injuries, they have a chance to get strength from the experience instead of weakness,” Paievska says into the camera. “This is Invictus. Unconquered.”