'Diana: In Her Own Words' review: 'Stretching meagre snippets to a dour, ponderous 90 minutes required a lot of padding'
There’s no doubt that Diana: In Her Own Words did exactly what it said on the tin. Unfortunately for anyone tuning in to be amazed and appalled by shocking new revelations, the actual contents of the tin were misleading.
This was indeed the late princess talking candidly and without the filter of mediation about her miserable marriage to Charles.
The trouble was, most of the words came from her controversial Panorama interview with Martin Bashir in 1995, which blew the lid off the goings-on behind the walls of Buckingham Palace and cast Charles and the rest of the royals as weird, insular, dysfunctional, emotionally constipated, vindictive and completely out of touch with reality.
Bizarrely, rather than just show clips from the interview, the makers of this new film chose to have an unseen actress “re-voice” segments of the audio.
Why? It can’t have been a copyright issue, since a few clips of the programme turned up near the end anyway.
It was more likely a case of director Kevin Sim not wanting the Panorama interview, which drew an audience of 22 million, overshadowing the new material.
It’s an understandable reservation. If you were to isolate the previously unseen (at least on British television) video footage recorded between 1992 and 1993 by Diana’s voice coach, Peter Settelen, who declined to be interviewed for the documentary, it adds up to no more than 15 minutes of material, none of it all that interesting.
All the supposedly juiciest details had already been fed to the newspapers in the week before the broadcast.
Among these was the fact that they had met just 13 times before their marriage, and how Charles was all over her “like a bad rash” the first night they spent any real time in each other’s company.
“He leapt upon me, he started kissing me,” she said. “He was all over me for the rest of the evening. He followed me around like a puppy.”
He asked her if she would mind spending time with him, just sitting there watching him work. She said she would mind very much.
For a man not used to being denied or talked back to, this seemed to make him even more determined to land her.
But Charles “wasn’t consistent in his courting abilities”, she said, in that oddly stilted way the British upper-classes sometimes speak. He would take her out every day for a week, then not contact her for three weeks.
He was rather more consistent, after they were married, in the lovemaking department. Sex once every three weeks was enough for him, and within a few years even that modest interest fizzled out.
Of course, as the world now knows, Charles was having his sexual needs seen to by his mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles, who had been an intimate member of the royal court long before Diana arrived on the scene and remained so for the duration of the crumbling marriage.
Everyone in the royal circle, from the servants upwards, knew Charles and Camilla had been having an affair for years – the only one left out of the loop was Diana.
When the penny finally dropped, she confronted the two of them as they sat side-by-side on a small sofa. Charles’s justification was that he didn’t want to be the only Prince of Wales not to have a mistress.
Making such meagre snippets stretch to a dour, ponderous 90-minute documentary (nearer two hours when you factor in the five ad breaks) required an enormous amount of padding.
Assorted friends and confidants – including Diana’s dance teacher, her private secretary and former protection officer – were left to fill in the rest of a familiar story, but ultimately added nothing new to our knowledge.
Ironically, the most interesting moments came from the archive footage, which reminded us that Charles has always been an oddball.
In an interview recorded when he was 21 – even then wearing the clothes and demeanour of a man three times his age – he reflected on what kind of woman a prince should marry: “You’ve got to choose someone very carefully, and it’s got to be somebody pretty special, because if you choose somebody who isn’t used to it, it could probably cause the most awful tension.”
Diana never really stood a chance.