The Most Jarring Aspect Of The New Diana Documentary The Princess Is Not What You'd Expect

At a time when fans of the British royal family are anxiously awaiting the upcoming release of Prince Harry's memoir and the new season of the hit Netflix show "The Crown," HBO has released a new documentary focusing on the life and death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The film, "The Princess," which was released to HBO subscribers on August 13, has received some mixed reviews from both professional reviewers and at-home watchers alike (via Rotten Tomatoes).


Chief among the complaints that some viewers are voicing is the fact that the documentary doesn't bring anything "new" to the table. No shocking revelations are made, no never-before-seen footage is released, no insider offers their personal knowledge of the life or untimely death of The People's Princess. And yet, those who are singing the praises of the film, directed by Ed Perkins, are claiming that this is exactly what makes the documentary as powerful as it is. 

And honestly, we are inclined to agree. Let us explain.    

The news footage forces viewers to reexamine

The film opens with a grainy clip of paparazzi following Princess Diana in a car, from the point of view of the paparazzi themselves. One of them can be heard saying that their current pastime is, essentially, just "chasing Diana." While on the surface, nothing about a clip of paparazzi following a famous person would seem particularly important or disturbing, viewers know that it was in a speeding car, trying to evade the hounding press, that Princess Diana lost her life. This knowledge of what is to come colors this opening clip with ominous, deeply upsetting foreshadowing for the film that is to follow.


For we know, as viewers, that any beautiful, joyful footage we are about to see in which Princess Diana overcame adversity, tended lovingly to the sick and dying, or found her freedom and direction, will all lead to the inevitable, tragic end. It's very much like watching a slow train wreck and being unable to stop it. 

Unlike most documentaries, there is no narrator, no modern interviews with experts to give context to the clips we are seeing. Instead, because the press followed Diana so closely, so relentlessly, for so long, we are able to see the entire story play out just in the carefully selected clips of news programs, televised interviews, and paparazzi footage that already existed. This forces the viewer to re-examine, with stark horror, what our window into the world of Princess Diana might really have cost her.     


The tragic ending we all now see coming

Particularly difficult to watch is the footage from Princess Diana's funeral, in which we see the familiar images of the young princes, William and Harry, now Duke of Cambridge and Duke of Sussex respectively, walking quietly behind their mother's casket. While this was always a heartbreaking sight, the new context we have for what was going through the minds of Diana's young sons at the time further colors these scenes with sadness.


In his recently released Apple+ docuseries "The Me You Can't See," Prince Harry recalls those moments of marching in his mother's funeral procession this way: "It was like I was outside of my body," he said (via People). "I'm just walking along and doing what was expected of me, showing the one-tenth of the emotion that everybody else was showing." He added that at the time, he was thinking, "This was my mum, you never even met her."

And when discussing how he felt about the manner in which she died, Harry said, "I was so angry with what happened to her and the fact that there was no justice at all." He explained, "Nothing came from that. The same people who chased her into the tunnel, photographed her dying on the backseat of that car."


The unrelenting press that made a joke about "chasing Diana," that gave us, the viewers, all of the footage included in "The Princess," literally chased her to her death, and that is something every viewer must contend with.