The last thing the world needs, you might think, is another Princess Diana documentary.
It’s a fitting thought given that nearly 25 years after his death, his life and impact are still front and center in the media. Whether it’s a magazine cover or a book claiming to have new revelations or just an image of Kristen Stewart in a recreation of her wedding dress for the movie “Spencer” or Elizabeth Debicki Sporting the “revenge dress” for “The Crown” series, the culture continues to have an insatiable appetite for all things Diana.
And yet, documentary filmmaker Ed Perkins managed to find a new way: by returning the lens to us.
“The obvious truth is that Diana’s story is probably one of the most told and told stories in the last 30 years,” Perkins said in an interview this week. “We only felt it was worth adding to this conversation if we really felt like we had a fresh perspective to offer.”
“The Princess” has no talking heads and no traditional narrator. Instead, he tells the story of his public life using only stock footage from news shows, talk shows and radio programs. It starts from when his first moments are tracked by cameras at the news of his royal court to the day after his death in 1997. It will premiere Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on HBO. and will be available to stream on HBO Max.
Perkins never met Diana. He was 11 when she died and remembers his mother waking him up with tears streaming from her eyes. For the next week they were glued to the television before his funeral, as most of the world was. At the time, he recalled feeling confused and surprised by what he said was a “very un-British outpouring of grief”.
He was someone most people only knew about through the media, he thought. Why were they acting like they had lost a mother or a sister? Why did millions of people applaud his wedding? Why, for 17 years, has everyone dissected “everything she did, everything she said, everything she wore?”
“There’s something about her story that always felt oddly personal to me,” he said. “I think millions of people around the world have a similar sort of relationship. There’s something about her or what she stood for that got into a lot of people’s skin and became part of the collective consciousness or understanding of who we were.
These are questions that have persisted over the years. And at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdowns, he and his archive team decided to try to answer the why. As you can imagine for one of the most photographed people in history, the archive was huge. For six months, Perkins stared at footage for eight to 12 hours a day, trying to find moments that spoke to him (and stay awake).
“It was often about trying to come up with subtext and body language,” he said. “Diana is almost like a silent movie star. She doesn’t speak much in public throughout her public life. And yet, I think she was incredibly adept, almost masterful, at publicly projecting her own very public story/ private and trying to tell us how to feel, how she felt.
It has also used the many hours of public telephone commentary aired on British radio broadcasts over the years to function as a kind of Greek choir.
The film, which won praise at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, attempts to take audiences on an emotional and intellectual journey as it unfolds in the present. For Perkins, it’s not just a historical document: it’s an origin story for some things happening today.
“I want the film to allow us to turn the camera back on all of us and force ourselves to ask ourselves some tough questions about our relationship, yes to Diana, but perhaps more broadly, our relationship to the Royal Family and more broadly. , what our relationship with fame is,” Perkins said. was our role in this story? What was our complicity in this tragic story?
Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr
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