In Ed Perkins’ documentary about the life of the woman born Lady Diana Spencer, the news that ‘Di’ is pregnant with her first child blares from a supermarket PA system. It’s like something from a sci-fi satire. Was Eighties Britain really that Orwellian? Um, yes.
The Diana we meet over the course of the movie seems formidable, brave and vulnerable; very close to Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of her in Pablo Larrain’s fabulous Spencer.
Like Asif Kapadia’s portraits of Amy Winehouse and Ayrton Senna, The Princess is less interested in offering juicy scoops than in deftly editing archive footage to reveal truths hiding in plain sight. Like the fact that Diana always had a self-deprecating sense of humour and that when dealing with the press, or members of the public, she was infinitely wittier than Charles, who (like his father and sister) could barely disguise his irritation with the hoi polloi and tended to come across as withering, peevish or rude. His laboured jokes don’t translate; his comic timing, under pressure, falls apart.
Though this is not a hatchet job of the prince (there are lovely sequences show him interacting with William and Harry) and nor is Diana put on a pedestal.
It’s true that music is often used to make us sympathetic to her plight. There’s a moving close-up, during a press conference, in which she soothes a crying baby William with her finger; the footage becomes downright distressing, thanks to the soundtrack.
But there are plenty of hints, too, that Diana’s judgements weren’t always sound. Her love affair with Dodi Fayed is presented as complicated, to say the least.
The monarchy, media and marriage. Perkins, responsible for the brilliant and devastating 2019 documentary, Tell Me Who I Am, seems underwhelmed by these venerable institutions.
The Princess will be in cinemas for a one-night-only special screening on June 30th (tickets can be booked at Altitude.Film) and in select cinemas from July 1