Does Diana Deserve Better?
As 'Spencer', the new fictional film on Princess Diana, is released, and the new series of 'The Crown' set to revisit the War of the Wales' - has the time come to admit that Princess Diana deserves better than these unfair fictions?
NOVEMBER 13th, 2021
he greatest enigma surrounding Princess Diana has long been the contrasting views on her far too short life. Victim or valiant media manipulator? Truth teller or truth twister? Depending on the audience, the answers differ. Diana could split opinion, and whilst we all learned so much about her private life, she was, in the end, still a mystery to many of us. Her death left many questions unanswered, and most tragically, allowed others to answer them without her consent. What she felt, what she said, even what she would think about the actions of her two sons, has been discussed and determined as if Diana was still alive. It has, in peculiar fashion, enabled the “People’s Princess” to take on an eternal presence within public life, and for the Royal Family, an immortal shadow of someone who showed that not every aspect of the monarchy was untouchable
In recent years, renewed interest in Diana, Princess of Wales has only underlined that everlasting aura. A new generation, through documentaries and dramas – ‘The Crown’ and most recently ‘Spencer’ – have been introduced to the carnage and chaos which Diana found herself navigating as the Princess of Wales. But, in reflection and stepping back from the soap opera world of the Windsor’s, do these entertainment dramas do the world’s most famous woman justice, or do they distort her reality and cheapen a remarkable Princess?
For most who lived through the years when Diana was alive, there is no denying her charisma and warmth. To the more regimented and rigid world of monarchy, it was as if an injection of adrenaline had been fired into the ancient institution. Here was this young, beautiful, vibrant woman who radiated relatability – a remarkable feat considering Diana was aristocracy and her bloodline being technically more “royal” than her former in-laws. As her marriage to Prince Charles began to crumble, scandal began to dominate. The perfect Princess image began to tarnish, and yet still the public formidably and firmly took her side. Whatever mistake Diana seemingly made, the public universally seemed to forgive her and in contrast, forsake her husband. Not much of this outlook has changed, and it has given credence and elevation to what is a stagnated view of a much more complex situation – that Diana was a victim, and the monarchy were the villains.
But what if there were victims and villainy on all sides? What if the monarchy did try to offer help to a Princess in distress, but that help was rejected without reason? What if a naïve and innocent Diana was plunged into the deep end of public and royal life without any instructions from an institution who expected her to be their next Queen Consort? What if, like all human beings, mistakes were made across the board? Would the drama be as entertaining? Perhaps not.
And here lies the problem surrounding the recent dramatisations of Princess Diana – are we making fiction more appetising than fact? Are we sacrificing the beauty of who she really was, to appease the masses who simply want the age-old narrative that has never really done her the justice she has always deserved?
When watching ‘The Crown’ or ‘Spencer’, it is easy to get absorbed by the impressive performances of Princess Diana by Emma Corrin – Elizabeth Debicki in the upcoming fifth season of the Netflix hit – and Kristen Stewart in Pablo Larrain’s highly applauded fictional film. But they, as have so many, have fallen into a trap which only damages the Diana who captured the hearts and imagination of the world. Yes, Diana suffered trauma. She was plagued by depression and bulimia. She attempted suicide by throwing herself down a flight of stairs when pregnant with Prince William, the addicted paparazzi’s obsession spun out of control, and her husband famously had an affair with her “rival” Camilla Parker-Bowles (now the Duchess of Cornwall.) We know this to be fact, why? Because she told us so in her explosive interview with Martin Bashir and book by Andrew Morton.
But there are also other truths we now know. Diana too was having an affair, multiple in fact. She would actively ring the Paparazzi providing hints of her locations. She would leak information to favoured journalists, she could be difficult to read and in turn help, and the interview with Martin Bashir was obtained by taking advantage of a woman who, at the time, was deeply paranoid about the world around her. Yet perhaps most importantly than all the above, she was fun with an unrivalled quick wit and infectious sense of humour. She was both sensitive and strong in equal measure. Her fashion was one for the ages, and without a hesitance of doubt, she was a damn good mother. Yet, where do these elements of her person receive equal airwaves similar to the more tragic fragments of her life. They don’t.
What many of these dramas and films do to Diana, Princess of Wales, is actively take an icon who lived vividly in 4D and strip her down to a two-dimensional character. Through their interpretation, one of the world’s most beloved Princesses and her life is viewed in either black or white, when in reality she lived in shining, vibrant technicolour.
Whilst the filmmakers, authors and dramatics who have used the princess as a plotline can be easily blamed, we, as the public must also carry some of the burden. Diana was a giant part of our lives. She shone so brightly it was impossible to ignore her, and the more she shared about her struggles, the more society both sympathised and wanted to know even more. Through those sympathies and urges for more explosive scandals we all felt a sense of ownership over her – afterall she was the “People’s Princess.” With that label came a belief that we the public could determine what was true and what was fiction, that we could speak for her and become the voice of the Princess that belonged to us all, and without knowing it we added to the damage.
The stark reality is, Diana never belonged to us and neither does her story. Of course, she is a part of history, and the public will always remember and love her. But is it fair to tell her story with such undiluted creative license? Aren’t we just adding to the discourse she herself despised so much – everyone else speaking for her, highlighting the fictional Diana and forgoing the real one?
It is a tragedy that Diana can no longer speak for herself, and her death has only added to the sense of sorrow that has overtaken her memory. But as the 25th anniversary of the cataclysmic car accident which claimed her young life approaches, hasn’t the time come to start to see Diana, Princess of Wales for the remarkable woman and humanitarian she was, instead of the overly dramatized princess many continue to unjustly paint her as? In place of focusing on the struggles of her life, lets embrace her successes. She tore down the stigma of aids, helped eradicate landmines, comforted the homeless, and embraced a public - who can be fiercely critical and fickle - without any complaint. This is a woman whose skills as a mother has prepared her eldest son for kingship, providing him the ability to embrace tradition with the human touch she was famed for.
Diana was an enigma; it is the part of her essence which captivated us all when she was alive and continues to in death. But an enigma cannot be defined, nor placed into a simplistic box. So why do we do this with the late princess? Maybe because it’s easier for us to remember her that way, or maybe because we’ve never really given her the credit she deserves. And in the end, with shows like ‘The Crown’ and movies like ‘Spencer’, Diana, Princess of Wales, will always deserve better.
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