THE PRINCESS (2022, doc)


Greetings again from the darkness. It’s been 25 years since the paparazzi chased the car into that Paris tunnel. The ensuing accident took the lives of Princess Diana, her boyfriend Dodi Al Fayed, and their driver, Henri Paul. The tragic and stunning event led to global grieving for a Princess who many felt never was accepted as a member of the Royal Family. Director Ed Perkins (BLACK SHEET, 2018) uses only archival footage, stills, and news clips to show how the media covered Diana over what was less than two decades in the spotlight. No new interviews – the talking heads we are accustomed to in documentaries – are included here, only the editing of existing media materials are offered as storytelling devices.

The film opens with a tourist-shot video taken just moments before the fatal accident. What stands out is the crush of photographers, the squealing tires takeoff of Diana’s car, and the swift action of paparazzi following on scooters and cycles. It’s not until the end of the film that we see the footage of the wreckage being towed from the tunnel. The rest of the film tracks Diana over the years … less than 20 years total.

The flashback takes us to Diana Spencer as a 19-year-old girlfriend of Prince Charles. As the press hound her on the walk to her car, we note her coy and shy demeanor as she offers “no comment” before driving herself away. The strain on her face as she’s being questioned is evident, and remains through those early shared interviews with Charles. It’s not until years later when she becomes so adept at handling the media frenzy.

Throughout the film we see clips of Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth, Sarah Ferguson, and Diana’s interactions with such notables as Henry Kissinger, Mother Teresa, John Travolta, Luciano Pavarotti, and Nelson Mandela. We watch as Diana’s hairstyles make their way around the globe, and of course, the wedding segment recalls how it became ‘the’ television event of 1981. There are segments on two babies (William and Harry), and we even see Diana holding Harry in her lap as the car drives away … and Charles heads to his polo match.

The 12-year age gap is discussed, but Diana’s surprising BBC interview with Martin Bashear provided the more likely reason for the 1992 separation. Camilla Parker-Bowles is shown while still married, but a Charles interview (along with Diana’s BBC interview) make it clear that the Diana marriage was meant to deliver ‘pure’ bloodlines to the Royal Family, and the “Fred and Gladys” (Charles and Camilla) relationship couldn’t do that. We can’t help but notice how much sadness Diana carried, and she certainly had her own detractors and critics, especially when biographers noted her own affair. It was this era that turned the Royals into their own entertainment industry – something which is disturbingly even more true today. Diana died at only 36 years of age. Both of her sons are older than that now. The global grief experienced is on full display during the segments highlighting her funeral. Perkins’ film might be a bit difficult for anyone who wasn’t around during the Diana era, but for those of us who were, the memories have not faded, and are enhanced by what we see here.

Available on HBO and HBO Max beginning August 13, 2022

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