This condensed documentary about Princess Diana reveals the power of perspective and timing in current events.

Reviews by Joyce Glasser The princess (June 30, 2022) Cert 12, 108 mins

Director Ed Perkins (tell me who i am) and astute producer Simon Chinn (Search for Sugarman; man on the wire) know what Hamlet knew: timing is everything. Right after the tribute to the late Roger Michell, Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts has contributed to a reassessment of the role of the monarchy, another royal story follows, also told entirely through contemporary archival material – with no external analysis, captions or speaking heads. If you’re wondering why we need another Diana movie, The princess is the answer. Perkins wishes to turn the camera of history back on ourselves, for no previous king has been so open to the public, so hounded by the media, or so deeply mourned.

While the story is familiar, this immersive, unadorned way of seeing it with the gift of hindsight isn’t. The film begins in 1997 with an anonymous shot of a car driving past the Ritz Hotel, where the crowd at the front door prompts a passenger to remark, “Wow, guys, on the right: someone very important.” We’re then taken back to Spring 1981 staggered when a smaller but persistent crowd of paparazzi surrounded Diana as she unlocked her car and pressed for clues to an upcoming engagement announcement. We always knew Diana was the media hound from 1981 to 1997, but seeing her life condensed on film adds to the pressure of living life in a glass bowl.

We’re familiar with the famous engagement interview, but this time when the glamorous couple is asked what they have in common, we catch Charles’s nervous giggle as he turns hopefully to his perplexed fiancee, as if he’d never thought of the question. One eye pops out from under her bangs to obey the prince, “sense of humor” phrased like a question. Diana adds, “Outdoor activity,” quickly qualified with, “other than not riding.” Charles whispers, “We’ll make it soon,” but Diana’s face shows little enthusiasm. Minutes later, we see her being dragged from one of the many polo matches she’s been dragged to: perhaps in response to a security threat, but Diana seems poised to comply.

“How many in the audience think the press should stop [her] Diana?” asks an unidentified presenter and everyone in the live audience raises a hand. In hindsight, we laugh at how wrong a panelist would be when they bet, “We’re going to see a change in attitude from the press now that they’re part of the royal family. All this telephoto stuff is going to stop.”

As sheltered 20-year-old Diana walks down the aisle of the “fairytale wedding” on July 29, 1981, she looks at sophisticated 33-year-old Charles three times for confirmation, but he never returns her gaze. This time we find that the carriage taking the couple from Saint Paul’s to Buckingham Palace is being escorted by Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Parker Bowles, the new Commanding Officer of the Household Mounted Cavalry. This time we hear a news commentator reassure us: “The couple have stayed twice at Parker Bowles and his wife Camilla’s in Wiltshire, so they’re among friends.”

And this time we can so easily tie back to the years with Charles’ chilling interview with biographer Jonathan Dimbleby, in which he says that Camilla “has been a friend for a very long time – and will be a friend for a very long time.” ‘

In a wonderful montage of royal walkabouts, we now clearly see Diana gaining confidence and style as she handles the massive crowds like a pro in increasingly sophisticated attire. “Charles couldn’t share any pictures of himself,” says one commenter, adding, “They came to see Diana.”

Such was Charles’ anger at being eclipsed by his shy, smartly dressed spouse, who criss-crossed the cordoned-off streets to accept flowers and chat to the crowds, that we at Charles’ attempt at a joke wince. “It would have been easier to have two women on either side of the street and I could walk in the middle and run the operation.

After the disastrous trip to India, during which Diana poses alone in the Taj Mahal, come the public laundry washes – the tit-for-tat biographies – of Andrew Morton’s 1993 and Dimbleby’s 1994, and the confessions that are as chilling as they are polarizing. In the famous BBC interview, she admits to having an affair, but to mitigate that there are “there are three of us” in the marriage, that Charles makes her feel worthless and that she hurts herself. Publicity shifts in favor of the wronged woman, particularly when Charles puts into perspective his claims that he was faithful throughout his marriage “…until it broke irretrievably after we both tried.”

The film includes comments on Diana’s reported weight loss before the wedding, but this time we realize that it was more than ‘pre-wedding nerves’ and that, as Diana herself admits in the BBC interview, she had a serious eating disorder. This could be a reflection of the unhappy marriage or a reaction to becoming a cover girl and fashion promoter because Kate Middleton, although happily married, is now a skinny model.

Despite the royals leading separate lives, Edwina Curry dismisses the talk of divorce and claims that all marriages have their ups and downs. Diana’s post-marriage public image soars as she walks through landmines and hugs AIDS-positive babies, but is marred by her affair with engaged Egyptian playboy Dodi Al Fayed. The public and the press sway and weigh them in the scales, with the public being more sympathetic. Diana is accused (by the press) of turning her off and on like a faucet.

Perkins allows us to read our views on the monarchy since 1997 without ever mentioning Megan (her accusation of a palace conspiracy to discredit her mirrors that of Diana in her BBC interview) or Andrew. There are notable emissions, but this clever and surprisingly compelling documentary was never meant to be a full story or biopic.

Earl Spencer’s scathing eulogy ‘Genuine goodness threatens those on the other end of the moral spectrum’ is conspicuous by its absence, but journalist James Whitaker’s comment that ‘The best thing for the monarchy is that the Queen live for a very long time’ is as true today as it was twenty years ago.

This condensed documentary about Princess Diana reveals the power of perspective and timing in current events.

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