Sundance Film festival 2022 Priemer
by Valerie Cameron
I don’t think there is anyone in my family who has not heard of Princess Diana. From my 77-year-old dad to my 20-year-old daughter, we all know of her. That doesn’t mean that we all know her story. Even though it seems like every few years we get some kind of movie, tv special or documentary coming out about some part of her life. I would say most people know the surface story. She was young when she married a prince, her husband was a cheater and she died in a car crash. I will admit I am a person that has watched almost everything made about her life. Like many, the royals intrigue me, all the way back to before the Tudors.
So, when I saw that there was a documentary at Sundance about Diana, I had two thoughts and one was “ugh”. We are coming up on an award season where we have nominations for “Spencer and “The Crown”, all based on storylines about the princess. Have we heard everything? Is this too much? I am a little embarrassed to say that The Princess was my last pick on my film list, but I said “why not”. I am very glad that I did.
This documentary is compiled of footage collected over the last 40 years. All the found footage that needed to be discovered and then edited together to create this story is incredible. It contains both public news interviews and media stories as well as intimate private footage. It starts at a place in time that most of us remember, millions of people celebrating what should have been the beginning of a happily ever after. Now we know it was the beginning of a nightmare. We see pre-wedding interviews that now to me seem so uncomfortable. Then everyone celebrating her royal pregnancy and the birth of a first child. The royals traveling the world. We were all sucking into the glamor and the fairytale we wanted to see. I remember seeing some of these stories as a kid and young adult and I never looked at what was really happening. We all see what we want to see. This documentary does a great job showing us what we didn’t see, even though we were looking right at it.
Diana was and is celebrated like a pop star by the public and media. When Diana came or was brought into the picture, the world was slipping away from the royal family. People were questioning the purpose of the royals. They tried in the past to be more accessible to the public, but never truly won them over. When Diana came along, she brought love back to the monarchy. They should have embraced it. In a big way they planned it, it was an arranged marriage and many say a marriage of convenience. Maybe someone should have told this barley 20-year-old girl. So, if they planned it, why did they dismiss and seem to hate Diana? Well.....change is hard.
The whirlwind of how the media was involved in Diana’s life till the day she died it what makes this documentary more unculturable than any other I have ever seen. It is important that we are uncomeatable about this aspect of her life. She even states in an interview that she knew coming into the family that she would be exposed, but I don’t think any of us knew how exposed she would get. I found myself talking to my tv at points telling them to get back and leave her alone. The media played a big part in who we loved and who we hated with the royals at any given time and we ate it up.
It is hard to believe it now, but back in the day Prince Charles was a catch. He was a semi-handsome young royal who just wanted to live his life and marry the woman he loved. It just didn't happen to be Diana. He never wanted to marry her, but it was his duty and he did it. The problem is Diana didn't grow up in a world of duty and pushing royal feelings down. She needed to play a role and for a little while she was able to do that. She even gave birth to two boys, really, she did her duty times two. But she was not without sin herself. Even though Charles was off playing polo hours after she gave birth to Harry, she had her moments of tantrums and secrets herself.
This documentary shows us the hollow faces of these two people pushed to live a life neither of them wanted to live. The sad eyes of a wife and mother who felt trapped. The blank face of a prince just going through the motions. The looks we saw over and over, big in technicolor day after day. It also showed us what happens to The Royal family when they come in second to a “princess” they don’t even like. The prince started taking a “back seat” to Diana. If Iwas their publicist at the time I would have told them to “lean in”. Most of the royals didn’t care at all what she was going through, some didn't even know when she had given birth.
The media starts to notice they don’t spend time together or connect. Then come the rumors. A Book comes out about their marriage, alleged suicide attempts by Diana, Secret tapes of Diana dating and tapes with Charles and Camilla saying things none of us really want to hear. Everyone had their opinion on what was happening and what should happen.
The second part of the documentary goes through the announcement of separation. They don’t get a divorce and ask for privacy from the press. This is a difficult time for Diana and it seems the media follows her a lot more than Charles. She begins to not play the game she had been playing for some many years and doesn’t always give the press what they want. This brings me to my favorite part of the film. Diana finally went on tv to tell her story about depression and the three people in their marriage. She also admitted to her affairs.
The third section of the film shows Diana learning more about who she is and what she can do. She starts being more of who she wants and she begins to use the media the way she wants. She connects with people more than ever. Footage of her doing humanitarian work we have seen before but there is one clip of her holding a young boy and pushing a mic out of his face and wagging her finger at the reporter. Then the best and worst thing happened to Diana. She started dating Dodi Fayed.
The press got more intrusive, and started turning on Diana a little. They also got more aggressive, running down the street after her, driving crazy. They you see footage of members of the media blaming editors and readers for wanting the pictures. I mean we all have a part to play here, let's be real. She just wanted a life and they could not let her have it. Charles got to be way more private.
What really got me about this documentary is that, for the most part it told us everything we already knew but it felt more personal. There was a moment when Diana’s death was announced and we are in a house of some regular men and we see their faces and reactions and I remembered where I wasn't when it happened as well. She was the people Princess because we wanted her to be. She was just human and the fact that we have some much public and personal footage about one person's life for some reason doesn’t feel so intrusive and then you watch it again and you see the pain and you think, maybe we are all to blame.
As we approach the 25th anniversary of her fatal car crash have we learned anything as a society? Are we less intrusive when it comes to people lives or more because we have social media? The one thing I think we can all agree on and that this documentary shows us in so many forms, is that she is an Icon. We are still talking about her and we will continue to talk about her.
If you are a fan of non-narration documentaries, this one is one of the best edited I have seen in a long time. Even if you don’t really care about the royals or Diana, you can respect the time and detail that went into telling a cohesive story from so much mixed media. I would rather watch this than “Spencer” any day of the week. I know...unpopular opinion. I would defiantly add this to your watch list.
Grade: Solid B
Director Ed Perkins
Producers: Simon Chinn & Jonathan Chinn
Edited by: Jinx Godfrey & Daniel Lapira
Composer: Martin Phipps
Co-Producer: Vanessa Tovell
Country: United Kingdom
Run time: 106 min
Company: Altitude Film Sales