clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

PBS shares Princess Diana's story from her perspective, at the expense of the monarchy

SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty years after Princess Diana's death, various stations are getting on the bandwagon with their own new documentaries about her life. PBS is no different, airing "Diana — Her Story" on Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. MT on KUED.

Since the film is, as it states, "her story," it unapologetically tells the tale of Diana's time as royalty from her perspective, often at the expense of the United Kingdom's monarchy.

Like some of the other new documentaries, "Diana — Her Story" features rare footage from Diana's 1992 interviews with her speech coach, Peter Settelen, whom she hired to help reinvent her public persona after her divorce from Prince Charles.

The 54-minute show portrays Diana's point of view through her private sessions with Settelen and modern interviews with some of her closest friends: her confidant James Colthurst, her ballet teacher Anne Allan, her private secretary Patrick Jephson and her personal protection officer Ken Wharfe.

Following Diana's life from when Charles courted the 18-year-old to her tragic early death at 36 in a car accident in Paris, the film neither attempts to make a complete summary of what happened during that time nor does it show the monarchy's perspective of Diana or her story. All focus is given to Diana.

Those who are less familiar with the drama that took place among Diana, Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles may find some details lacking. The film assumes the viewer comes with a certain amount of background knowledge, perhaps especially considering that, at the time of her death in 1997, Diana was considered to be one of the most famous women in the world.

Two decades later, "Diana — Her Story" does not try to reiterate what has already been said but attempts to find something new to say about the "people's princess" — a difficult task. Much of the story is familiar: A young, naive Diana loved the prince she married, expecting the fairy tale the media promised. Sadly, it wasn't long before she discovered Charles' long-term affair with Parker Bowles and, in despair, turned to bulimia, because, as she said in the film, "I chose to hurt myself instead of hurting (the monarchy)."

Some of the more shocking revelations from the new footage include marriage advice Diana received from the queen. When Diana asked Queen Elizabeth II what she should do about her husband's affair, the monarch told her she didn't know and that "Charles is hopeless." Diana also told Settelen that even Charles' father, Prince Philip, had told his eldest son he could always go back to Parker Bowles if his marriage didn't work out.

It is inspiring to hear from Diana about her decision to "cut her own path" after she and Charles separated. The monarchy is portrayed as the villain during this time, as those closest to Diana explain how the future king feared having to compete with his ex-wife for popular appeal.

One of the loveliest aspects of the film is the portrayal of Diana's love of dance, including a mention that if she hadn't been a princess she would have been a dancer. A beautiful montage of "Swan Lake" — the ballet Diana saw at one of her last public appearances before she died two months later — and footage of Diana's time as princess toward the end of the film create an emotional experience. The viewer is left wondering what Diana's life could have been if she'd had the chance early on to define it for herself.

The most scathing view on the monarchy comes at the end from Jephson when he says, "A lot of the things that I admired about the monarchy for me died with the Princess of Wales." He said he was particularly upset by the way the monarchy treated her before she passed away.

Certainly, the monarchy isn't given a chance to defend itself in this case, but the documentary never pretends to do anything but show Diana's story through her eyes.

Content advisory: "Diana — Her Story" contains no swearing, violence or sexual content, but it does focus on adult themes and topics, including adultery and divorce.