In the documentary “The Princess” Ed Perkins tells the story of Princess Diana with unknown and surprising images.
Actually, the tragic life, love and family history of Princess Diana (1961-1997) is widely known. And yet a documentary is coming to the cinema that tells the great drama with mostly unknown and sometimes completely surprising pictures. The British director Ed Perkins (“Black Sheep”), who has already been nominated for an Oscar, managed this bravura piece. Together with his team, he meticulously viewed archive material and private recordings for about “ten hours a day for six months”. The film team got the latter “via social media and calls in newspapers”, as the likeable filmmaker told the audience at a screening in the City-Kino on Tuesday evening as part of the Munich Film Festival.
The unusual narrative style of the film – no interviews with experts, contemporary witnesses and people who knew or met Diana – has created something completely new. Even the entry shows where the journey is going. You can see a private video of unnamed Paris tourists who happened to be driving past the Hotel Ritz late in the evening on August 30, 1997, recorded a storm of flashing cameras in front of the entrance and talked about the fact that a very special celebrity must be there right now. It must have been Diana, who, as is well known, would not survive the night.
Perkins also put a similarly intense goosebump moment at the end by first showing a group of happily blaspheming card players who learn about the princess’s car accident while the television is on. With today’s knowledge, i.e. for the cinema audience, an absolute foreign shame moment. But then the news of Diana’s death suddenly flickers across the screen in the men’s group…
A scene from the engagement interview of the now 73-year-old Prince Charles and the then 19-year-old Lady Diana Spencer in February 1981 is touching. The close-up shows how he caresses her hand soothingly and almost lovingly. Then she says with a smile: “With Charles by my side, nothing can go wrong.” Later she says: “I look forward to being a good wife.”
All of Diana and Charles’ famous interviews and quotes on private life (Camilla’s “Tampon”) and the later War of the Roses (“There were three of us in our marriage, so it was a bit crowded.”) play a role in the documentary. Also surprising is an interview by Duchess Sarah “Fergie” Ferguson (62), Diana’s sister-in-law, with talk queen Oprah Winfrey (68), in which they talk about the private crises of the heir to the throne.
The role of the media and the audience
It also tells of the role of the media in the life of what is probably the most photographed woman in the world, of the incredible paparazzi sieges and of the demand from the audience, readers and viewers to always learn more about her. “Yes, the film is about Diana. But it’s also a film about us and our relationship with the monarchy,” says Perkins. A particularly absurd scene: An announcement in the supermarket announces Diana’s first pregnancy. At two other points in the film, it is no coincidence that ghastly royal hunting scenes are intercut.
“On the one hand we want the members of the royal family to be like us, on the other hand we want the fairy tale – but the two don’t go together,” the director explains one facet of the Diana drama. “The film is not meant to be a critique of interest in Diana,” he insists, “but of the way we consume such stories as entertainment.” For twenty years, this story was “almost like a soap opera or a national sitcom,” Perkins said. What happened was not solely the fault of the media or the royal family.
Does the palace know the documentation?
The film team informed the palace that they were making this film. However, the royals were not involved and there has not yet been a reaction, says Perkins. But apparently he doesn’t fear them either, because he “treated the royal family with respect and sensitivity”, as he does in all documentaries. “I always take my responsibility towards the protagonists very seriously.”
And as evidence, he summarizes again at the end of the question and answer session: “It’s a very complex and difficult story for the British royal family, for many fans it’s a very personal one, but for Prince Harry and Prince William it’s their life, Diana is their mother .”
Theatrical release the day before Diana’s birthday
The documentary “The Princess”, on which Ed Perkins worked for a total of two years, celebrated its world premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. In Germany, the film will start in cinemas on June 30th – one day before the birthday (July 1st, 1961) of the deceased royal icon.