Those of us who associate Rosie DiManno with her 1982 Emmy-nominated role as Helen Sinclair in Diana, Our Mother can scarcely stomach the notion of the People’s Princess, the portrait Leonardo da Vinci painted of her that Charles Marlow years earlier.
Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of Diana, Princess of Wales, dated 1501, enamel and glaze, 100cm x 40cm. Photograph: Leo Balderas/Corbis via Getty Images
When Leonardo painted the portrait, Diana was five years old and nothing much seemed to change. And as we have seen in recent months – even by the extended Agatha Christie company, whose work has recently gathered news headlines at one and another – there has never been a ghostly likeness that evoked such unrelenting terror. These days, she is remembered for much more than her most unhinged younger self, for her full-scale photogenic presence and for her appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair magazine not once but twice.
So when little Diana glides across the frame in Pablo Larrain’s movie, it seems more like a step towards nostalgia than an examination of her personal history. It is very true that it has taken two years since Di’s death before we have had a point of reference that might benefit us in matters of dynastic succession. Surely, that wait has been too long.
The co-stars play Camilla Parker Bowles and Andrew Parker Bowles. Photograph: Andres Otero/AFP/Getty Images
Larrain is still classically inclined in the way he approaches this subject matter, employing a suitably weighty diction that reflects the sombre, deeply regal atmospheric conditions of the title. It is dry, it is austere, it is noticeably worthy. As in Arnaud Desplechin’s Jules et Jim, which had the object of sentimental sentimentality firmly in mind, Larrain tends to stare out towards the beach, to the Arc de Triomphe or to Victoria and Albert. His film is mostly in black and white.
Benedict Cumberbatch and Damian Lewis play Camilla and Andrew respectively. The white and wizened Dianas represent a few decades of change, but they look the same: frocks and wavy hair. William Boyd’s BBC drama celebrated the differences between Diana and Camilla’s modern monarchic iterations as if the two were exactly the same. As anyone who has looked through the newspapers will know, their distinctive characteristics are visibly distinctive. And only occasionally does Larrain mix them up. For example, in the film’s first half the Camilla we meet is whiter and more sombre than the Brit of goodness olden days we are used to, while she gives serious agency to her husband in the second half.
Rupert Friend and Sophie Okonedo play Diana and Charles. Photograph: David James/EPA
Those who have watched Cruise control Catherine Zeta-Jones in Breathless might say Larrain’s choice of Camilla and Charles as Diana and Charles is more than coincidental.
Diana is 50-years-old in this film, which is why she is a picture of glamour, of womanhood, of hope and idealism. Camilla is just a woman, and certainly not womanly. She is anything but glamorous. She is rather dull. She is stuffy. She is duller than a Victorian rake. She is full of stiff, heavy shoulders and too nasal for the dispatch boxes of the 1930s. She is a woman with which Charles is intensely unfamiliar. She has such a rigid resolve to follow some immutable path that it is hardly surprising that she has caused so much trouble.
The first half of the film is very disappointing. It has a lot of what is on view on the covers of these very magazines in recent weeks: ghastly hair and makeup; toned-down, and usually scowling, eyes; hyper-feminine garments. This looks in stark contrast to the happy-go-lucky spirit which, suddenly, was absorbed by all too many young women watching the royal wedding in 1981. Our fears for the princess of Wales’s welfare turned out to be well founded. If anything, such behaviour is an extension of the terrible, battered Diana who seeks for naught in the seedy chancer Charles.
I wished there was some