The gift and the book itself are fictional. The 2021 film, directed by Pablo Larraín, is too, proceeding from the idea that where there’s a martyr there must be a monster. Elizabeth is a freeze-dried witch, Charles a snarling prig. Perhaps to avoid accusations of defamation, the filmmakers identify their story, in a prefatory caption, as “a fable from a true tragedy.”
A fable and a tragedy I grant you: The famous outline of Diana’s story, if not its unknowable guts, is Grimm indeed.
But the word “true” doesn’t belong anywhere near “Spencer.” No reputable history has suggested, for instance, that the princess ate a bowlful of pearls emancipated from a Flintstones-size necklace given to her by her unfaithful husband. Nor is she known to have hallucinated Boleyn, who urged her toward self-harm, or dismissed a lady-in-waiting, as one does, by saying, “Now leave me, I wish to masturbate.”
Well, surrealism is as convenient a fig leaf as any to hide one’s sins under. And at least “Spencer” means to be sympathetic, if sympathy can coexist with character assassination. Turning Diana into a martyr by stripping her of all decorum means turning her into a madwoman: a threat to herself and possibly her children. By the time she plants herself in the middle of a pheasant shoot, all but daring her family to kill her, our sympathy has started to reflux. Perhaps the monsters were on to something.
Schemer, hysteric, victim, saint: It may be that Diana was any or all of these, as even a fanboy must concede. I did not, finally, know her. That doesn’t mean I can stand to watch writers, pretending they do, torture her as she was once tortured by paparazzi, only this time For Your Consideration as award bait. A woman whose bereaved children are still living is not primarily an artistic, let alone a financial, opportunity. Her value as gossip or as evidence in a political argument does not trump her right, even in death, to personal integrity.