In Review

Film review: The Princess

Strangely compelling Princess Diana documentary

Ed Perkins’s Princess Diana documentary “shouldn’t really be as fascinating as it is”, said Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, “but I spent much of it on the edge of my seat”. It tells the story of the Princess of Wales’s life using only archive footage – with no voiceover or talking heads. This means that it cannot show us anything of Diana that hasn’t been committed to the visual record, and so it has nothing to say, for instance, about her “revealing” rivalry with her sons’ nanny, Tiggy Legge-Bourke. And yet it is both “captivating and agonising” to see it all over again: how dazzling Diana was; how spontaneous she was, compared to the “stuffy royals”; and how “dysfunctional” she grew when the press she’d once “worked with” became “boorish and predatory”.

It is indeed “compelling” to see Diana, who would now be 61, “frozen at the peak of her powers, like Marilyn Monroe”, agreed Deborah Ross in The Spectator. But I was bothered by the film’s failure to “peel back the layers”; interesting as it was to be reminded of it all – the births of William and Harry, the affairs, “that dim fella James Hewitt”, the TV interviews, the Andrew Morton book, the Revenge Dress, the hugging of Aids patients – it struck me as a bit pointless. 

It’s true that none of it is exactly “earth-shattering”, said Alistair Harkness in The Scotsman; but to me, it had the compelling feel of a “found-footage horror movie”, in which Diana’s life is presented as a kind of “ground zero for where we are today”. Midway through, we see Prince Charles and a young Prince William size up a bank of press photographers. We’re trapped, Charles jokes. The film implies that before long, we’ll all “be trapped in a voyeuristic, narcissistic hellscape of our own making”.

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