It’s been 25 years since Diana tragically died in a car accident in Paris as she and her partner Dodi Al Fayed fled from paparazzi photographers. Perkins’ documentary opens with this moment, captured by a couple on vacation. In their grainy home video, you can clearly see Princess Diana’s car speeding through the night, with motorcycle paparazzi hot on their heels. It’s a dark way to start the doc, but by starting where we know it all ends, Perkins removes the titillation of waiting for that moment from the viewer.
Instead, it takes us on a journey through Princess Diana’s life on film, with no added contextualizing text or talking heads. The media images speak for themselves, as do Princess Diana and Prince Charles themselves. The other genius of getting started with this car footage is that it lets you know right off the bat how often it was filmed while driving or driving. From their wedding day, there are images of the couple’s every move in the car; from transport to and arrival at St. Paul’s Cathedral, their exit and procession through London, and their return home. Later, there is footage of her leaving the hospital by car after Prince Harry was born. Along with her wedding, the car that held her coffin during her funeral procession was also filmed from every possible angle.
This obsession with following one’s movement in cars can be seen even in the first images used. A reporter follows Diana as she heads for her brave orange car, asking intrusive questions about her impending engagement to the prince. This Diana is young (19) and not yet gifted for the media. But although she is shy, you already see her mischievous smile and a brief glimpse of who this young girl could have been had she been able to grow up outside the constriction of the royal family.
In her first official joint interview with Charles as an engaged couple, she can barely look at the camera, holding her body inward. She responds with simple, direct sentences. She mostly follows Charles’ lead. Later, in similarly paired interviews, Diana’s transformation is evident, not just from her fashion choices, but also from the way she’s more comfortable speaking in front of the camera. She stands confidently. Her responses are playful, often teasing Charles.