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Harry Mount - Netflix: The Crown & Diana: In Her Own Words

Arts | By Harry Mount

Go for the real thing, says Harry Mount

The fourth series of The Crown is a travesty.

Writer Peter Morgan’s big trick is – as Charles Spencer, Princess Diana’s brother, has said – to take a few facts and then hang fictional, dramatic storylines off them. You end up with a very enjoyable, well-acted, trashy drama – with little relation to the truth.

As my columnar neighbour Roger Lewis says, the stand-out star is Emma Corrin, who plays Diana.

She’s nailed Diana’s accent. Her sentences end with a long, final, moaning vowel and a tentative uplift that seeks approval and shows empathy. With a little tweak, it morphs into flirtatiousness – overpowering when combined with Corrin’s / Diana’s gaze upwards from under those Kohl-soaked eyelids, flapping like bat’s wings.

But why watch The Crown when you can see the real thing? Diana: In Her Own Words originally appeared on Channel 4 in 2017. Now clever old Netflix has realised what gold dust these original recordings of Diana are.

In 1991, a friend of Diana’s, Dr James Colthurst, taped her on behalf of Andrew Morton in preparation for his 1992 bestseller, Diana: Her True Story.

The audio recording is played over original footage of Diana, combined with speeches and other interviews – though not the 1995 Panorama interview with Martin Bashir he allegedly secured through subterfuge.

The film lasts just under two hours and it’s utterly one-sided – Prince Charles’s view doesn’t get a look-in – but it flies by. You can see why Diana was so seductive (though none of her boyfriends is mentioned). She has an enchanting cocktail of shyness, teasing and absolutely knockout looks.

How those looks change from her 1981 engagement, with her round, heart-shaped face, to the long, thin almond shape with accentuated cheekbones and ever-bigger eyes only three years later.

The Crown and in her own words here. It started in 1981, the week after she was engaged, and raged until 1989.

The bulimia, like all the shocking details in Andrew Morton’s book, is grippingly true. Yes, she threw herself down the stairs when pregnant. Yes, she knew all about Camilla Parker Bowles, and overheard Prince Charles telling her, ‘Whatever happens, I’ll always love you.’

Charles’s affair destroyed the marriage. But the couple were also monumentally unsuited to each other. Diana says her fairy-tale wedding was ‘the worst day of my life’.

As with Senna (2010), the compelling documentary about the racing driver, the drama is paradoxically increased by our knowing its tragic end.

Diana, talking in 1991, was strangely prescient about her future. She thinks she will last ‘12 or 15 years as Princess of Wales’. She ended up lasting 15.

She talks, too, about how the press ‘haunted or hunted her’. During their engagement, there were four members of the press outside Prince Charles’s house; she had 34. She refers to herself as the ‘sacrificial lamb’ and the ‘lamb to the slaughter’.

And she talks about ‘lots of [press] chases. I made sure I was going through just as the light was going to red.’

Harrowing, chilling stuff.

This story was from January 2021 issue. Subscribe Now