In 10 Words or Less
What might have happened that night
Loves: Good documentaries, interesting editing
Dislikes: The cult of Princess Di
Hates: British royalty
With the end of August marking the 10th anniversary of the death of "The People's Princess," the people of England and America have been inundated with more celebrations and remembrances of Princess Diana than ever before. It's a morbid little cottage industry that ironically is at least partially responsible for her death in the first place. But, for some reason, people keep eating up the fairy tale, mixed with a healthy dose of conspiracy theory, and so we are given movies like Diana: Last Days of a Princess, directed by Richard Dale, the man behind the similar docudrama 9/11: The Twin Towers.
The story has been reported so many times I should just link to Google search for "Diana's death," but this film follows the last two months of her life, focusing on the burgeoning relationship she had with Dodi Al-Fayed (son of billionaire Harrods owner Mohamed Al-Fayed.) The film is unique in that, using actors, including Genevieve O'Reilly as Diana, it recreates her life, interspersing throughout the story archival footage and interviews with people involved in the story. The result is an odd blend of fact and fiction that can be confusing at times, especially if you don't know the story well, but is also rather artistic and original for a tale that's oft been told.
To be honest, I can't say I was all that enthralled by this film, as there's nothing new to be said about her death, and there's no real accusations made by the film, which instead spreads the blame around. The film's main contribution to the legend is to take viewers "inside," "experiencing" the events that previously were just reported on, with some bonus statements by Mohamed Al-Fayed, bodyguard Kez Wingfield and others closely related to Diana's death. I never much cared about the story, having little interest in the British royalty, which makes another retelling much less tempting, but I can appreciate what the filmmakers are attempting to do (and what they did with 9/11: The Twin Towers.)
It's difficult to replicate such an icon like Diana, but O'Reilly does a good job, displaying her grace and humanity well, and looking enough like the princess to not be distracting. The others in the film are less well-known, so the likeness issues aren't key, and their roles, frankly, are hardly as important as O'Reilly's. With the exceptions of the two Al-Fayed men, the rest of the characters are more like props than characters. In that way, the film certainly did a good job of illustrating Diana's real life, while the car scenes with the paparazzi nicely show what kind of mobile claustrophobia she much have experienced regularly.
Instead of attempting to film in a documentary style, creating a you-are-there feel, Dale went for a very cinematic style, which gave the movie a gorgeous "regal" look that captures the epic sense of the story in the scope of the world, while also separating thedramatized material from the file footage, giving each element its proper weight. It also made the film's climatic car chase excellent power and energy that made everything come together in the end.
A one-disc release packed in a standard keepcase, the DVD has an animated full-frame menu with options to watch the film, select scenes and check out the special features. There are no audio options, no subtitles and no closed captioning.
Shot in widescreen high-definition video, the film is presented in letterboxed widescreen, which is a bummer for the widescreen TV owners among us. The image, during the dramatized sections, is sharp and solid, with good color, deep blacks, a fine level of detail and some minor issues with excessive noise during darker moments. The archive footage varies depending upon its source and use. There's no dirt or damage, obviously, with the exception of a big black bar along the top and bottom of the screen. How'd they miss that?
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is equal to the video in quality, with clean, distortion-free dialogue and well-presented music. There's nothing done with separation between the channels, but there's nothing wrong with the mix either.
Though it's not mentioned on the box, the first extra is feature-length audio commentary by Dale and his director of photography Paul Jenkins. The hows and whys are covered in this chat, along with some thoughts about the storyline as well, with Jenkins handling most of the technical talk and Dale talking about the overall production. It's a good track, for filmmakers, as they discuss overcoming challenges and the use of documentary techniques on feature film.
The two-minute "Playing Diana" has Dale and O'Reilly talking about the casting of Diana and her look in the film, with on-set footage and interviews, while the slightly longer "Interview with Richard Dale" lets him talk about a variety of topics related to the production. The last extra is the 1:39 "Crash Re-creation," in which Dale draws out the scene on the ground. One would think more than 99 seconds of sidewalk chalk drawings went into the scene, but that's all we get. For those keeping score at home, the box lists five extras, of which three are included, plus the bonus commentary. But who's counting? Me. That's who.
The Bottom Line
Depending upon your level of interest in the "Death of Diana" storyline, this will either be a fascinating revisiting of a historic moment or a boring repeat of a story you've heard before. If it is something you're interested in though, the creators have done a nice job of telling the tale with originality and creativity. The DVD looks and sounds solid, but is a bit of a disappointment technically, while the extras are better than expected, though not what is promised by the box. Followers in the cult of Diana will absolutely want to see this film, while those interested in alternative documentaries will want to give it a look as well (and maybe own it if they have a square television.)
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.