Born in 1961, the woman who would become Princess of Wales and one of the most famous people in the world was literally nameless for a week. Expecting a boy, the parents finally came to ... See full summary »
With an estimated 3 billion people worldwide having watching the Royal Wedding, it is safe to say the world is truly gripped by the lives of the Royal family. This documentary series ... See full summary »
A fascinating human interest portrait to be taken for what it is
A lot of controversy raged about this documentary, which some critics dismissed offhand as "trashy." I wouldn't agree completely, though I must say that while I did thoroughly enjoy watching it I came away wondering whether I ought to be slightly ashamed of myself for having done so.
For one thing, the general unfolding of Lady Diana's tragic story is hardly news to anyone who knows anything about the royal family, and most of the "revelations" come in the form of details that aren't really surprising - indeed, one has the impression most of them were already suspected or speculated on, anyway. Overall the narrative fits pretty nicely into the large canon of work that suggests Diana was a lightning rod for the monarchy in the modern world: an older and a newer way of thinking came into a rather sudden and dramatic clash. I suppose it was bound to happen somewhere, though perhaps it needn't necessarily have happened to the British royal family. The much-vaunted "modernization of the monarchy" was probably inevitable, but having Diana's own perspective from the center of the storm makes for a fascinating piece of sociology and psychology.
It would however be important not to take this as the final objective word. The source material was produced as part of Peter Settelen's attempts to improve Diana's public speaking abilities by drawing out her "real self," and what comes out is that her time as a princess was for her a huge play in which she had been sadly miscast. To take Diana's word for it, she had felt this almost from the start. Perhaps that's true, though one should remember that at that moment she was just, just trying to come out of her own. It is clear enough that she was unhappy during much or most of her marriage to Charles, a proposition corroborated by plenty of outside evidence, and that she was still working through this unhappiness at the time of the recording. The perspectives and criticisms should thus not be taken at 100% face value, by themselves: they are one point of view which deserves to be digested and taken seriously without rushing to value judgments.
That said, one can certainly call into question whether we were actually meant to have this point of view. Given the criticisms Diana offers in private of her husband, her in-laws and her parents, she suddenly appears a lot more discreet and restrained than I had previously given her credit for. I don't think this documentary makes her look bad - rather the opposite, in fact - but I was not convinced by Settelen's explanations of his motivations for first wresting these tapes - at what appears to have been great trouble and expense - from Diana's bereaved relations and then selling them to be broadcast. Settelen clearly considers himself to have done a great service to Diana and by extension to the world that so came to appreciate her, and he wants to be recognized for it. That narrative is plausible enough, but again, it's Settelen's perspective, and he definitely has more of a tangible interest - as he himself seems to acknowledge and justify - in propagating it than Diana ever did in saying anything critical of her husband or of the Queen. If my opinion of Diana went up, my opinion of Settelen definitely went down over the course of this viewing.
I am torn, then, between gratefulness to Settelen for sharing us this great portrait and appallment that he would broadcast what was clearly understood to be a private moment without permission, permission which I doubt Diana ever would have given. She always thought about her sons, and she knew one or both of them would eventually reign, after having to see their father through his own reign. Nevertheless, the cat is out of the bag, though arguably it has been for quite some time. The British monarchy has proved itself remarkably resilient and capable of rebounding. This fascinating portrait is but a few brushstrokes in that imagination- staggering history. Cheers!
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