Sometimes happy endings are hard to come by. Once upon a time, we pinned our hopes on 20-year-old Diana Frances Spencer and the future king of England, 32-year-old Charles, Prince of Wales. Their unlikely union certainly fulfilled our collective need for happy endings during the 1980s and ’90s… until it didn’t.
Twenty years have passed since Princess Diana’s tragic, untimely death in Paris on August 31, 1997, precipitating a deluge of celebratory films and articles honoring her memory.
“It was a fairy story that everybody wanted to work,” admitted Diana, Princess of Wales, during a candid moment filmed by her speech coach, Peter Settelen, in 1992. Clips from Settelen’s revelatory videos comprise a substantial portion of Diana–Her Story premiering tonight, Tuesday, August 22, 2017, on PBS, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region and http://www.pbs.org for streaming and DVD availability.)
The documentary, directed by Kevin Sim and executive produced by Charles Furneaux, utilizes clips from those candid videos to frame the timeline of Diana’s evolution from a happy, naive, “rebellious” teenager to a lonely, anxiety-ridden member of Britain’s royal family, who ultimately set her free to fulfill her destiny as the “people’s princess.” It’s a lot to cover in 54 minutes, but the video clips are well worth your time if you loved and respected Princess Diana and her journey to self-realization.
Princess Diana apparently worked with Settelen in 1992 to improve her public speaking skills as her marriage to Prince Charles unraveled for all the world to see. The video clips reveal a still playful Diana who recalled her giddy excitement and disbelief when, at 18-1/2, she became the object of Prince Charles’ ardor. Despite his clumsy courtship, which she implied should have been a sign that they were incompatible, she fell madly in love.
“I desperately loved my husband, and wanted to share everything with him,” said Diana. Clips from their glorious wedding day, a media event like no other before or since, quickly fade from view in Diana–Her Story, as she and those close to her discuss her shame at being forced to coexist at public events with Camilla Parker-Bowles, whom everyone knew to be Charles’ mistress and great love.
“I think the biggest disease the world suffers from in this day and age is the disease of people feeling unloved,” said Diana in 1995. Isolated and marginalized within the royal family, Diana became an emotional wreck suffering from bulimia and crippled by anxiety.
Members of her support team resurface in this film. Her confidant James Colthurst, ballet teacher Anne Allan, private secretary Patrick Jephson, and personal protection officer Ken Wharfe underscore her compassion and kindness and recollect her determination, in the face of hopeless odds, to save her marriage.
“I had to cut my own path,” she said; and she finally did just that, eclipsing Prince Charles and those in his realm who disparaged her.
Diana, Princess of Wales was a survivor. She carved a whole new life for herself, not as the future Queen of England, but as a fashion icon and, most especially, as an advocate for “unfashionable causes” supporting society’s outcasts with whom she so identified. She focused much of her empathy and care on individuals afflicted with leprosy, AIDs and HIV.
One can only wonder how this honorable young woman would have continued to impact the world as she matured and expanded her charitable and political endeavors. Admirably, her sons carry on her charitable legacy. But we will forever miss all that she could have become… we will miss her happy ending.
Produced for PBS in association with Channel 4 in the UK, Diana–Her Story premieres tonight, Tuesday, August 22, 2017, on PBS, 8:00 – 9:00 p.m. ET. (Check local listings for air times and repeat broadcasts in your region and http://www.pbs.org for streaming and DVD availability.) Channel 4 will reportedly air a film with similar source material as well.–Judith Trojan