August 31, 2017 is the twentieth anniversary of Princess Diana’s death. The tragic anniversary typically prompts people to tell stories that begin with “I remember I was at my…” Her death is an instant trigger for late 90s nostalgia. The PBS documentary Diana – Her Story attempts to tell more of the untold pieces. There is no shortage of documentaries, tell-all books or movies about the royal family. Diana – Her Story, however, uses her home videos to tell her story but with a slant. Even with all of the previous tellings of Diana’s story, there is still more to know.
One striking detail that the documentary shows is just how odd Charles and Diana’s relationship was from the beginning. When explaining her first impression of her future husband, Diana describes Charles as being “like a bad rash.” Charles was persistent and unpredictable. At one point, Charles asked her to “sit around while I do my work.” The line is not swoon-worthy, an indicator of a courtship that is in stark contrast to the visual of a “fairy tale wedding.”
Their odd courtship led to a union that was “a marriage in name only.” Diana – Her Story isn’t ground breaking. What is shocking is how cavalier Charles is in public about his infidelities. The documentary shows footage of Charles making an unfortunate joke about needing two wives to walk down the opposite sides of the streets, with him giving instruction from the middle. The story, told from Diana’s perspective, does not give Charles a likable disposition. According to Diana, he refused to be the “Prince of Wales who never had a mistress.” After twenty years, knowing Diana’s fate, this sentiment seems even more disturbing.
Diana – Her Story seems more hopeful when it pulls away from how Diana was wronged and moves toward her search to find “her voice.” There are moments when the documentary feels like a modern adaptation of The King’s Speech. The home video camera records the moments when Diana works one-on-one with her speech coach. As the coach encourages her to speak with “more energy” or “slightly faster,” the audience can see her slowly gain the confidence she had lost. His moments of praise and her genuine smile are pieces of her that could never be recreated. It’s a touching moment because it’s not Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush playing a King working through a stammer. It’s a real woman, who would soon be gone, talking to people “from the guts.”
The documentary slowly creeps to the year of Diana’s death. There aren’t spoilers to this documentary. Every viewer knows how her story ends. In the last five minutes, the narration stops. Glimpses of the moments that lead up to 1997 are spliced between two ballet dancers. (Earlier, viewers were told that if she hadn’t been a Princess, Diana would have liked to be a ballerina.) The dance leads to the final moments of footage from Diana’s life. The urgency and desire to tell her, from behind the screen to not go, to turn around, is heartbreaking. What’s left of her fairy tale turns into a Greek tragedy.
Seeing that last image of her reminds me of where I was on August 31, 1997. I remember I was at my house. My mom was making me breakfast. Seeing Diana – Her Story reminds me that even though there are countless tellings and re-tellings of your story, there are still bits and pieces need to be told.