Review: The Princess
by Elena Lazic
- Lady Diana’s story is told exclusively through archive footage in Ed Perkins' compelling but always respectful documentary
The extent of the fame and popularity of Princess Diana in her time finds its echo in the ungodly amount of footage shot of and about her by journalists and everyday people alike, during her relatively brief time in the spotlight — namely, from her marriage to Prince Charles in the early 1980s to her death in 1997. It is difficult to fathom the amount of research that director Ed Perkins and his team must have done to craft not merely a coherent documentary out of so much material, but also one that is also compelling and substantial. The Princess, which had its world premiere in the Premieres section of this year’s online Sundance Film Festival, tells a familiar story, but one prone to distortion and which does merit at least a factual check-in once in a while — though perhaps especially now, as the Royal Family is suspected to get a new King and Queen rather soon.
Unlike Pablo Larraín’s Spencer [+see also:
film profile], The Princess does not aim to show the private side of their shared subject, but uses only archival footage to focus instead on the way the media and the public at large perceived, judged and loved her. Were this approach used to discuss almost any other famous personality, it perhaps would not make for such an interesting film. But as is evident from the very first images shown of her, Diana had a very special relationship with the public and public life at large — she was not called The People’s Princess for nothing. Whether in her wit, in the enigmatic and playful looks she would often shoot out from under that great mass of hair, in the casual way she appeared able to wear the most colourful or sexy of outfits, or in the bits of her life that she chose to disclose to the press, it seemed she always sought to be if not completely, then at least partially herself — royal rules be damned. And so, while Perkins is careful not to frame the reactions from everyday people and the media to the publicly visible aspects of Diana’s life as a definitive portrait of her, it is impossible not to think that these refractions must have captured some significant part of her real, private story.
The film is therefore also worthwhile for those who care little about Diana herself, as it shows the strange and fascinating interplay between the Royal Family and the general public, a rapport that went through significant ups and downs in step with Charles and Diana’s relationship. Diana’s story is engrossing, often horrific, and frequently moving. But what stands out the most is the Family’s lack of control over these waves of popularity, and how out of touch they appeared to be with the people whose approval their continued anachronistic existence utterly depended on — and still does.
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