The first clue that “The Princess” won’t be your standard Diana Spencer documentary is that the director is Ed Perkins. Perkins’ last film, “Tell Me Who I Am” (2019), which was also his feature debut, told a painful true story of identical twins whose lives were turned upside down by abuse and memory loss. While his perspective was compassionate, his revelations were presented in a way that could best be described as ruthless.
There are few revelations in this image, which chronicles Diana’s life from just before her engagement to Prince Charles was announced until her death in a car accident in Paris in 1997. In fact, the film, consisting entirely of archival footage, begins with fairing video taken as she and her partner, businessman Dodi Fayed, fled the paparazzi on the night of her death.
It’s a harrowing film that depends on our collective hindsight to underline its multiple and particular ironies. For example, in joint interviews with Prince Charles shortly after the wedding, Princess Diana may seem very reserved – or perhaps depressed. Turns out it was depression. To see this now makes one shudder.
Perkins does not overtly editorialize; the film’s editing and a taut musical score by Martin Phipps (with additional music by Rutger Hoedemaekers) make this work a subtle but ultimately indignant skewer of celebrity culture.
One of the last images in the photo is of a young Prince Harry at his mother’s funeral; the pain in his eyes is moving. But it indirectly reminds us that Diana’s life and death taught the world nothing.
Unclassified. Duration: 1h49. Watch on HBO and HBO Max.