Sundance: The Definitive Princess Diana Documentary – ‘The Princess’

You will not learn about Diana Spencer’s childhood in The Princess. You won’t hear about her upbringing, see faded photos of her early years, meet her siblings or hear about her parents’ divorce. You won’t find any information about her education, her time in Switzerland at a finishing school, her work as a nanny or how she became Lady Diana, prior to her engagement with Charles Philip Arthur George the Prince of Wales. We are reminded of the 12 year age difference between them and that they first met at 16 years old. Diana was confronted with a host of photographers and reporters on her way to work. One journalist insisted that she know the truth. “they won’t have to wait long” before nuptials are announced, there’s little information about what happened before Ms. Spencer became a household name. You don’t get the cradle, though regrettably, you will get the grave.

Yet The PrincessIt premiered at last night’s 2022 Sundance Film Festival, and will be released on HBO later in this year. This is the only portrait you need of this beloved, still-divisive icon. There’s been a renewed interest in Diana’s life and times as a public figure, thanks to The Crown‘s recent season devoted to her integration (or lack thereof) into the royal family and Spencer, the Pablo Larrain/Kristen Stewart drama that imagines her long, dark holiday weekend of the soul at the Queen’s country estate. Now we have filmmaker Ed Perkins’ look back at her ascension from British citizen to world-class stateswoman, which naturally covers the same ground as the former and shares the latter’s desire to reassess her treatment within the royal sphere. (Say what you want about Larrain’s phantasmagoria of movie, it’s definitely an attempt to reclaim Diana’s identity on her behalf — it isn’t called SpencerFor nothing. It’s an extraordinary take on Princess Diana that tells her story through old interviews, photo-op appearances, news reports, chat-show white noise and peripheral found footage regarding her death. But more importantly, it’s the definitive documentary on “Princess Di,”The public saint/sinner persona was formed through a thousand tabloid headlines as well as the lenses of the apex-predator paparazzi.

The use of nothing but archival footage to recount Diana’s rise, her perpetual “trial by television” and her fall isn’t a gimmick — it’s a stroke of genius, a jujitsu finishing move on her tormentors. After all, it was the media that made her the crowned queen. “People’s Princess,”The world was shown a real human being, flawed and living in a royal household that treated human behavior as a luxury or liability. It was the media that documented how the public loved her, sometimes in the most ironic and extreme ways (see: a news interview with a National Front skinhead giddily waiting to get a Charles& Di tattoo on the day of their wedding). The media constantly smashed her down, put her under a microscope, and blinded her with a spotlight. She then bragged about holding a press conference, in which she pleaded to be left alone. And it was the media who declared the Princess of Wales’ love story to be “the stuff that fairy tales are made of”They were then made to be the ogre at her doors. They were her judge and jury, as well as her executioner.

So while the doc’s decision to re-examine the spectacle that made and broke the woman at the center of it all might not have been politically motivated, it definitely doubles an indictment against a cottage industry — and a nation’s journalistic apparatus at large — that uses their own abundant materials as evidence against them. You get a ringside seat to how Britain’s cultural mouthpieces viewed Diana through a thick lens of sexism, courtesy of some jaw-dropping quotes; one reporter breathlessly recounts how Spencer’s father, uncle and others “have even vouched for her virginity,”While another note that “like most brides, Lady Diana has lost weight as the day approaches.”The evening news and competing dailies make the dissolution her marriage into a national soap-opera, amplifying Charles’ smugness over his charismatic spouse who effortlessly charms large crowds. “stealing”He is the focus of all attention. If their cameras could capture Diana’s reactions to her husband’s stiff attempts at public speaking, all the better. Spencer was the one who gave Spencer more beautiful side-eye.

Reporters scrambled for coverage of the House of Windsor’s tell-all books, as they were being loaded from vans. Every word was given Talmudic analysis. We now know what we know. Martin Bashir’s infamous interview with Princess Di, it’s hard to view it as a platform for the princess to tell her story in her own words. However, the nation was brought to a halt by the fact that the public, who were trained to consider every bombshell urgent and breaking news, watched the conversation on television. Every one of the greatest hits of Diana’s story — the straight-outta-Disney wedding, the trip to Australia, the birth of her sons, the dance with Travolta, the visit to a Harlem hospital, the “Camillagate”Tapes on the Front-Page “kiss” from Dodi Fayed — is accented or accompanied by shots of paparazzi clicking away, invading her space, stalking her at every corner. The paparazzi were slowly draining her lifeblood long before she was chased through Paris streets in 1997. One pap reason: They took photos because they wanted them to, as news editors bought them when they ran papers. “So, really,”He said, “the buck stops with the readers.”

The director stated that he was interested and able to see her life from the perspective of the festival. “the role that we played in all of this.”To be certain, The PrincessThe documentary does raise questions about the implications of elevating someone so high and then allowing them to revel in every aspect of their imperfections. Although the documentary may retell the story of Diana as both a strong woman but also a helpless damsel, it does not address the ramifications of elevating someone to that level of fame and being willing to revel in their every flaw. But it also asks for accountability, and you can feel a current of anger running just underneath its packaging of yesteryear’s snark and schadenfreude. And as we continue to re-litigate how famous females were treated in the Eighties and Nineties, Perkins’ history of how Di was torn down makes for a hell of an Exhibit A. On a first night of screenings that ran the gamut from highly disappointing (Jesse Eisenberg’s directorial debut When you are done saving the world) to the beautifully offbeat (the volcanologists’ valentine Love is the Fire of Love), The Princess provided Sundance’s opening evening with a bullseye hit. This may be the festival’s nonfiction highlight.

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