‘The Princess’ creates a stark portrait of Diana’s life under the media microscope

Told entirely using clips and video, with nary a narrator’s voice or talking head, the documentary essentially opens up a time capsule, propelling viewers back to the near-quarter century span from Diana and Prince Charles’ fairy-tale wedding through their divorce and its aftermath.
Even with the treasure trove of available material, it’s a feat of editing and curation. Director Ed Perkins has smartly bookended the film with video of the paparazzi chasing her and the young Diana being peppered with questions by reporters about her upcoming marriage, meticulously filling the gap in between.
As for pundit takes that aged incredibly badly, one commentator on the BBC says confidently that after the wedding and attendant hoopla, “All this telephoto lens business will stop.”
Nobody can say that Diana’s life was under-covered, with the season devoted to her on “The Crown,” the Kristen Stewart starring vehicle “Spencer” and Netflix’s presentation of “Diana: The Musical” still looming large in the rear-view mirror.
Princess Diana at a 1996 White House event, as seen in HBO's 'The Princess.'
Even so, the narrative approach employed here strips away such dramatic embroidery, while fleshing out the old interviews with things like news clips of ordinary folk responding to the twists and turns in Diana’s story. Toward the end, that includes a particularly striking shot of a man in a crowd yelling at the press, saying they’re to blame for her death, eliciting cheers from those around him.
Inevitably, “The Princess” is as much a media story as one about the Royal Family. That includes one British commentator saying he thinks Diana is “very close to being a monster,” and coverage of the trip to Australia where people flocked to “the people’s princess” while Charles had to acknowledge she was the primary attraction, not him.
Those segments give context to the most familiar snippets, like Diana’s now-infamous 1995 interview with Martin Bashir — a source of controversy due to the BBC’s determination about the “deceitful” methods employed to obtain it — in which she said of Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, “There were three of us in this marriage.”
Again, “The Princess” doesn’t really introduce anything new to the conversation but rather deftly filters it through the harsh gaze of the cameras as they clicked away — and clicked and clicked some more — while Diana was alive.
“In the end, you do get used to it,” Charles says early on, regarding the crush of attention.
But his first bride never did, and watching “The Princess” should prompt at least some soul-searching about the blithe assumption that she forfeited all privacy when she gained that title by saying “I do.”
“The Princess” premieres Aug. 13 at 8 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.