Diana clearly had a rocky marriage with Charles.
WATCH THE TRAILER:
Greg and Zanna are watching something they’ve seen too many times.
New Perspectives: Zero
Willingness to let her rest: Zero
Our moral guilt: Not zero
Princess Diana’s death is
the first major historical event that I remember with clarity and still come to terms with that the 1990s is a story far enough back to be revisited in a contemporary context. Interestingly, The Princess recontextualizes little – there’s no modern commentary, no talking-head musings – it’s the sheer passage of time that makes us see Diana’s story for what it was. , or should I say for what it is, because in 25 years we will see it differently.
Ed Perkins’ HBO documentary is told entirely through archival footage, including home videos from the audience that may be the only never-before-seen footage from the film. There are TV interviews with Diana and Charles, talk show commentary, filmed public appearances, news and paparazzi footage. It would have been a daunting task to sift through the hundreds of hours of material and whittle it down to a one hour and 44 minute documentary.
For the most part, I appreciated the lack of “expert” opinion telling me how to think and feel about Princess Diana’s public life, even if the filmmaker’s opinion was felt throughout. There are long takes and slow zooms in on Diana’s facial expressions, particularly when a smile fades, as if to suggest that if she were truly happy she would never stop smiling. It must have been exhausting to have examined your every expression to this extent: there were times, no doubt, her face read anguish and torment when in reality she just needed to go to the bathroom.
Don’t undermine Diana’s suffering. She clearly had a rocky marriage to Charles, a strained relationship with the palace, and was hounded relentlessly by the press. As a society, we’ve done a lot of thinking in recent years about the paparazzi era of the 1990s and the damage it did to certain celebrities – Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Lindsay Lohan – and it’s no surprise that the people most scrutinized by the press were and are women.
Diana’s death is a symbol of our raw need to question women’s sexuality at all costs. In an early clip of when Diana was first recognized as Charles’ likely bride, a TV commentator says Diana’s father and uncle vouched for her virginity. Her untimely death was the result of a desperate press to confirm her libido through a photo of her with Dodi Al-Fayed. She’s no longer a virgin, she must have been a whore.
I would have liked to learn something new from the princess. There was nothing in it that I hadn’t seen or heard before, but nonetheless it’s hard not to be moved by it, if only because of the shameful and avoidable tragedy of his death.
It’s a pretty bold move to make a documentary about Princess Diana. What angles, if any, remain for any sort of creative work on someone so large captured on film, in print, and via every other recording method available; someone has commented so much in so many forums with so little insight and so much passion?
That’s what I wondered while watching this documentary, which is a steady accumulation of archival footage, with very little context other than occasional voices recorded at the time – from members of the public or broadcasters or occasional interesting personalities. There are no interviews, no commentaries, no subtitles, no names attached to any of the faces. It plays out like a high-speed unfolding of her life as it’s filmed, from the moment she first emerged into public consciousness to the massive international grief that followed her death.
Our first sighting of her is as she is followed from her home by hordes of photographers and reporters as she makes her way to her small sedan on her way to work one morning in her late teens. In light of who and what she would become, it’s almost comical to watch her in that moment, completely unprotected, unguarded, unmediated, as the hordes descend upon her and she begins her descent into the dark arc of life in which she would live. in front of these cameras.
It is the overwhelming and enduring image of the film: the cameras; cameras everywhere. And as we judge these awful mostly men following her, yelling at her, pathetically begging her, hoping to get shot, we realize that as consumers of this documentary, 25 years later his death, we’re continuing to contribute to the culture that made his life so difficult, that led to his death. As one awful photographer comments in the film, we just take the pictures, the newspapers are the ones paying for them, and the public is the ones paying for the newspapers, so who is ultimately responsible?
It is an intellectual work, produced by HBO and devoid of preaching or moralizing. There are no easy takeaways. He has the veneer of art. With its emphasis on visual recording, it reflects how we have reduced it to an image. But is all this useful? Why, even a quarter of a century after her death, will we not leave this poor woman alone?
The princess is now in the cinema.