Released: 13th August
Seen: 30th August
For some strange reason, this year has been a year full of assorted stories involving the late Princess Diana. There was the stage musical that was an absolute critical and financial flop, though is now considered something of a cult classic, followed by the film Spencer that gave us some insight into Princess Diana’s life as part of the royal family. Soon we’ll also have another season of the show The Crown which is due to take part during the latter part of Diana’s life and there was even a special out early in the year that just focused on Diana’s fashion. This year is just another year where we are going to spend a substantial part of it talking about Princess Diana and that strange constant craving for Diana imagery by the media is the main subject of the documentary The Princess.
Using nothing but contemporaneous footage, The Princess condenses the time between Diana and Charles’ marriage and Diana’s passing into a feature-length montage that slowly exposes the harsh reality of Diana’s relationship with the press. It slowly puts years of press harassment into the harsh brutal context that makes it remarkably clear just what Diana went through while also showing how the public’s opinion of her changed, especially in that period just before and at the moment of her passing. It’s a look at how a single person’s life can be changed by the media, using nothing but the very media that did the original damage.
It’s hard to deny that there are a lot of powerful ideas behind The Princess, largely just showing the back and forth between the paparazzi and one of their favourite subjects and the genuine animosity that is in that relationship. At the time a lot of this footage might’ve seemed harmless but with the addition of hindsight and knowing how this all ended up (which we’re reminded of right at the start using footage seemingly from one of the paparazzi that chased Diana into the tunnel that would claim her life) you can see the anger in Diana’s eyes that she has to deal with this, something she objectively didn’t sign up for. As The Princess goes on, the resentment of the privacy invasion goes from being subtle to overt, to the point where even the paparazzi notice it and get verbally abusive because of it.
With no interviews or voice over, The Princess just shows us the intensity of the coverage of Diana and after a while it becomes relentless. While there are moments where we get to revel in her good works, the bulk of The Princess leans into the scandals, the dark side of the coverage that would grow and grow. It also shows how the people were reacting to the coverage at the time, including some particularly cathartic moments where the people were calling out the paparazzi for their role in Diana’s death. It really gives you this grand overview of this lengthy period of time when Diana was quite simply the most documented human being on the planet, and it’s compelling to watch.
There is a kind of cruel irony that a film that’s ostensibly about how this much coverage was partially responsible for sending Diana on a dark path is only possible because of all that footage, footage it shows almost unflinchingly. It uses voyeurism to call out the evils of voyeurism which makes for a bit of a conflicting watch, the film relies on a desire to know what it was like to witness this happening but in order to do that you have to take part in the very thing that the film condemns. Not saying this is a negative, but it makes for a strange time because at some point you’re going to get the feeling that you shouldn’t be able to know all this detail about someone. It feels invasive, which is part of the point but it can make for an uncomfortable time.
All that being said, if you ever wanted to have a glimpse of just what the media landscape was like when Diana was alive, The Princess is possibly the greatest way to experience that. It shows every facet of how she was covered, from the positive and uplifting to the contempt thrown her way for daring to be human and needing a little bit of privacy. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the power that the media can have when they obsess over someone, and when that obsession can turn into something truly horrific. It’s a hard watch because of the context of it all, but it’s a worthwhile one to remind ourselves of what happened so we can hopefully learn our lesson… eventually.