Our collective interest in the late Princess Diana continues with Ed Perkins’ impressive documentary The Princess.
There’s been an overwhelming amount of content about Princess Diana in the last few years. From The Crown to last year’s spellbinding fictional take on the People’s Princess in Spencer, where Diana was played by Kristen Stewart, we’ve been treated to a lot of Lady Di.
Next in line to have their share of the legacy of Diana is Ed Perkins, an Academy Award -nominated documentarist. He has crafted a technically masterful, but perhaps a little problematic film on the late princess which screens at Sundance Film Festival London this weekend.
There are a lot of documentaries about Diana, so to set himself apart from the sea of others, Perkins has opted to use only archive footage. No more floating heads, just grainy archive footage. It’s a fascinating way to craft a documentary about someone as famous as Diana. The Princess really hones in on how she was seen by the public and also how she affected our view of the Royal family in general.
The film crams a lot into its 106 minutes, starting from the early years of Charles and Diana’s marriage and ending with her funeral. The Royal family do not come across as warm or particularly nice in this. A lot of The Princess is reliant on us reading Diana’s expressions and that’s the problem.
Maybe the problem isn’t solely in Perkins’ filmmaking, but the overall hysteria and the constant need to tell her story. This is a woman who suffered for years, was publicly hounded by the press and most likely privately by the Royals, but she has no voice in this. There’s the odd quote here and there, but in The Princess, she’s mostly silent. Her life, and death, have become public property, but Diana never gave anyone permission to do that.
We’re drawn to a tragedy, always have been. There’s something Shakespearean about Diana’s story, but we’re now so familiar with it, that The Princess feels stale. We already know each and every turn and twist and towards the end, Perkins’ film becomes rushed and ends rather abruptly.
We learn nothing new of Diana’s life nor does Perkins manage to make us see any of her life in a new light. There’s a nagging feeling that there was potential for something better, something deeper here.
Documentaries are manipulative by nature. They are non-fiction, but there is still someone behind the lens, with a creative vision and ultimately, an agenda. The footage is edited in a way that reflects the filmmaker’s view of the world and their opinion. This isn’t a criticism, but it’s something to keep in mind when watching The Princess, or any documentary really. There is clear admiration for Diana present in The Princess, it’s mostly lovingly made but there’s no real insight or exploration into how the media circus affected her.
But the sheer amount of archive footage collected and edited together is astounding. On a technical level, The Princess is a masterpiece. It’s swiftly edited and it’s affecting, interesting and well paced. But it’s impossible to ignore the larger picture of yet another man telling the tragedy of a woman, who has had no say in how it’s handled.
The Princess screens at Sundance Film Festival London this weekend.