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05th Nov 2021

Three new Diana productions show we need to get over our weird Royal obsession

Adam Bloodworth

Surely it is time to let the ‘People’s Princess’ rest in peace

Princess Diana died 24 years ago in a tragedy that no one has ever stopped talking about. We all know the details. She was, and forever will be, the ‘People’s Princess’, but surely the time has come to lay Diana to rest? Yet, we have not one, not two, but three new releases about her life.

The Crown portrayed a young Diana last year, and now it’s Twilight actor Kristen Stewart’s turn in the blonde wig in a new film called Spencer. Then, for an added dose of Di, Broadway actor Jeanna de Waal will play Lady Di in Diana: The Musical from next month in New York (there’s already a version for all to see on Netflix).

Seems like overkill, right, or can audiences simply never be sated when it comes to Princess Diana? And are any of these new productions worth watching? Here’s what you need to know.

So, how come there are three Diana releases at the same time?

Blame the pandemic. At least for Diana: The Musical, which was originally opening on Broadway in March 2020, but was delayed. It may well feel like Di’s appearance in the Crown has been a long time coming too. It’s been talked about since season 4 last year, but she isn’t due to hit the screens until next year. 

Spencer, the movie, is out this month.

Are they basically all the same?

They all convey how unhappy Di was as a royal, but come at the story from different angles.

Diana: The Musical blitzes through the most obvious Diana facts even Diana detractors could recite in their sleep. Diana meets Charles, gets papped a lot wandering around posh areas of West London, gives up her nursery job, and moves into the palace, having kids and hating life. 

In a flash (more literal flashbulbs) she’d dead and it ends.

Spencer is also totally bizarre – but in a different way. Director Pablo Larraín has made an arthouse movie which documents Diana for three miserable days with the royals over Christmas, swerving her death altogether. 

The Crown season 4, available on Netflix, is a halfway house between the two. In terms of sticking to the facts, it’s more of a straight shooter than Spencer, and a lot more delicate and thorough than Diana: The Musical.

Which one should I watch?

[caption id="attachment_297963" align="alignnone" width="1190"]

Let’s start with the film you shouldn’t watch even if it is the last film left on a withering planet Earth. That’s Diana: The Musical.

It’s laughably, obscenely bad. The writing is awful, thoughtless, and it is blatantly exploiting a tragedy. But the lyrics are the worst part. 

Sorry, what did you say the lyrics were again in Diana: The Musical?

Not only do lyrics crudely spell out the story, but they do it in naff rhyming sentences. “It was fine when you were new, But, good God, you’re 32 – what’s a monarch to do?” the Queen asks Charles in one scene, wandering around a stage full of oversized bits of tacky English furniture.

That’s language fit for a royal banquet compared to some of the lude lines elsewhere. During a song about the paparazzi a group of dancers pretending to be photographers sing about how papping Diana is better than having a wank.

We’re dead serious.

“Better than a Guinness, better than a wank, snatch a few pics, it’s money in the bank,” they snarl. Paparazzi-themed choreography sees them ducking to get the best angles wearing flash cameras and long overcoats.

The musical seems so obsessed with cramming the clichéd elements of Diana’s story into bad lyrics that it forgets to leave time to examine the real emotions of these people, or how they actually felt at the time. 

Ironically, the musical’s just like the newspaper headlines the show claims to mock: it’d rather put on a splashy show than tell the truth.

Oh, and Diana actor Jeanna de Waal’s wig has been styled to look like Clare Balding. Make of that what you will, but Diana, Princess of Wales, this is not.

How about Spencer?

[caption id="attachment_297962" align="alignnone" width="1410"] Kristen Stewart is a convincing version of Diana (Photo: Fabula)

Spencer is a good movie – but if you’re not a Diana fan, or find the monarchy duller and more full of lies than our current Tory leaders, the film’s experimental style will frustrate as much as Diana: The Musical.

Spencer tells a more unusual part of Diana’s story, the early-nineties years. It presents us with absurd dream sequences to get us into her mindset.

In one dream scene, Diana’s sat at a formal dinner at a royal castle but we escape that and go into an imagined reality, where the princess is gobbling up the pearls from her necklace before being bulimic in the bathrooms without the royals knowing. 

The film gets inside her manic mind: how absent she might have felt from the pomp and ceremony of the royals’ daily life and suggests she’s longing to rock out and drive recklessly around country roads.

It is a thrilling discovery of Diana behind closed doors – but the subjects won’t come as a surprise. Spencer retreads the story about her bulimia and her desperation to leave Prince Charles.

Kristen Stewart is surprisingly good at pulling off Diana’s Sloaney West London drawl, an interesting advancement from her other most famous role as a vampire in Twilight. She even nails the intricacies of Diana’s voice. 

The relentless Meghan and Harry news coverage, and all the rolling coverage of The Crown, have likely instigated this Diana mania in the media. The funny thing is there’s a good way to go yet: Stewart is getting awards season nods for Spencer for 2022, which is when the new – and most explosive – season yet of The Crown will air. 

If you’re a Lady Di die-hard, this is great news. But if you’re not, it might be time to prepare a bunker thicker than  Jeanna de Waal mountainous wig in Diana: The Musical – or at least some kind of pop-up blocker based on Diana internet content – as it’s unlikely to stop anytime soon. 

Related links: 

Kristen Stewart thinks she’s ‘probably only made five really good films’

Princess Diana’s statue is getting roasted on social media

First photos of Princess Diana in The Crown revealed