Director – Ed Perkins – 2022 – UK – Cert. 12a – 109m
The story of Princess Diana told entirely through archive footage – out in cinemas on Thursday, June 30th
The strange thing about watching this documentary about the fairytale turned tragedy of Princess Diana, if you’re old enough to remember it unfolding over several decades, is that it takes you back to the news coverage removed from everything else that was happening in the world (or for that matter in your own life) at the time. To some extent, that’s a necessity of both storytelling and cinematic narrative.
At this point in the review, I could rehash the story as a synopsis of greater or lesser length. However, since rehashing the story is primarily what the film itself does, there seems little point in such an exercise. If you want to see this, you want to see this and little I can say about it will deter you.
What Perkins has done is to assemble a version of the story solely from archive footage: no vox pops from the great and the good to explain what was happening (although he does include the occasional piece of archive interview footage from Diana, Charles, or both together) or offer ‘expert’ or other insight. Just the footage. He claims in the press handouts that this makes the story ‘unmediated’, yet that can’t be true. This is all footage created by the mass media after all. So his source material is mediated by the very nature of what it is. And then, it’s mediated a second time, at a remove from the first, by the process of editing the available archive footage into a narrative feature film.
The celebrity to grief story is clearly a compelling one, otherwise it wouldn’t have run and run and run in the British media. So to take that footage and fashion it into a narrative that runs the best part of two hours is clearly going to appeal to whatever it is about the story of this woman that so many people find so essential. However, to ‘merely’ tell the story in this way means that the film simply tells us what we already know and doesn’t add anything.
You can’t fault Perkins and team for sourcing the footage they have and then assembling it the way they have. It’s a striking story, well told, and as it unfolds it’s never boring. Coming out of the film, though, you feel like you’ve watched a souvenir brochure or a the tragedy playing out in real time and rather wonder, what was the point?
The Princess is out in cinemas in the UK on Thursday, June 30th.