Sarah Caden: 'Love, actually sees Meghan star in her biggest role yet in royal rom-com'
Meghan's first Christmas with the Windsors sees her acting the princess and shaking things up, writes Sarah Caden
Have you noticed the trend for getting psychologists or, better still, lip-readers and body-language experts to comment on photos and footage of celebrities and give their learned opinion of what's really going on?
It's a sneaky way of getting the bad word said, without saying it yourself. If the expert says it, it must be true, but I would never say this myself. It's not dissimilar to a person leading you into bitching about someone, while never striking a blow themselves. The badness is done, but their hands are clean.
Last week, the Dukes and Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex - that's William and Kate and Harry and Meghan to you - issued the photographs to be used on their Christmas cards this year.
William and Kate's was a relatively informal affair. It's an outdoorsy autumnal scene, with the couple and their three children posing on a tree trunk.
Young Prince George, in long trousers for the first time in an official picture, is larking around. Princess Charlotte is wearing one of her brother's hand-me-down cardigans. Baby Prince Louis looks like he takes after the Middletons in looks. The parents are in jeans.
One newspaper had a body-language expert who described them as "tight and blissfully happy".
The same expert had a look at the Christmas card picture released by Harry and Meghan. In the black and white shot, taken on the night of their wedding, the couple stand with their backs to the camera, arms around one another, watching a huge fireworks display.
This was described as being like a "still from a Bond movie or classy rom-com", with the expert pointing out that this was an image of the couple's choosing. As in, this is the kind of image that they feel portrays them best and, to an extent, sums up who they are as a couple.
Comparing these analyses, it's Harry and Meghan who come off worse. On the one hand, William and Kate are entirely not-normal people who come off as normal and approachable. On the other hand are Harry and Meghan, who are setting a scene, an approach that smacks of being a bit artificial. It's not very nice, but if an expert said it, that makes it more scientific than simply cutting.
We're asking a lot of Meghan Markle since she became engaged to Prince Harry and was then elevated to quasi-princess status.
There's all this fuss and thrill about who and what she has been in her life before Harry. She's American, she's mixed race, she's an actress. All these things make her rather more interesting and glamorous than the usual royal bride.
Meghan is a very 21st-Century wife for the Windsors, and one who doesn't need them to tell her how to make an impact. To date, her skills, honed as an actress, have stood her in good stead. She charmed the koalas from the trees when she and Harry visited Australia and brings a glossy glamour to every appearance.
There is often a sense that Meghan is playing a part, however. That seems to be woven into the expert opinion of the Sussex's Christmas card; that Meghan remains tuned in to Hollywood-style impact, with being the star attraction, rather than the more modest approach of Kate Middleton.
No wonder feud rumours between the wives rumble on.
Last week, we saw Kate Middleton drive herself - how entirely ordinary! - to Buckingham Palace. The visit was to have tea with the Queen, who, it was reported, had been asked to help banish the bad feeling between Kate and Meghan.
Also last week, Meghan was a very special guest at the British Fashion Awards, where she presented the Best British Designer award. She walked on to the stage like nothing short of a model, shoulders swaying, more performer than princess. Her black velvet dress was one-shouldered, and long, discreetly chic.
She spoke smoothly, claimed the UK as her new home and then announced the winner as Clare Waight Keller, who designed Meghan's wedding dress in May. Then, Meghan stood back to let the designer take centre stage.
Standing behind Waight Keller, with her two hands clasped in front of her, Meghan then noticeably started and placed both hands, like a potter, on her stomach. She gave a small smile and held on to her stomach. The baby, it was surmised, had given quite a kick.
Quite a public, indiscreet kick, you might say, and, if you were entirely cynical, one that put Meghan back centre stage.
People found it cute and adorable and all the rest, but they also felt charmed by this appearance, even if it also seemed a little hammed up.
At this stage of the relationship between Meghan and the public, a veritable honeymoon stage, a little bit of ham is part of her charm. At some point, though, does it start to feel like Meghan is playing a part, that she's setting scenes and playing them out?
But then, if Meghan Markle spent her adult life, up to the point of committing to Harry, as an actress, then how could it be any other way? If she lived her life for years in terms of 'what are the optics on this?' then how is the woman supposed to switch now?
Further, it's not a mistake to perceive her new position as one on the stage. She is on the stage and it is all about the optics.
Reports last week suggested that one area of frustration for Meghan in her new role and new life is that she cannot respond to social media or to her family's trashing of her or to any commentary or allegations about her past.
As one who had a very active social media presence before committing to Harry, this is understandable. It also indicates that Meghan is someone who likes to play a proactive role in protecting and shaping her public image.
Now, in her new position, she can only convey through official engagements and sanctioned photos such as the Christmas card, who and what she is. There's limited scope for the kind of full expression Meghan Markle had in her previous career, but the card seems to prove that she's making the most of it.
Whether the rom-com heroine role can be sustained long-term is another matter, however.