The Princess Review: An Honest Look at the Tragic Life of England’s Rose

There’s a reason that I prefer documentaries over biopics about iconic figures. Do you really want a Hollywood version of The Beatles or U2’s story? Think before you answer. And while some can pull off a fictionalized story within an iconic figure’s life as Pablo Larraín did with Spencer (and Jackie for that matter), a documentary can also tell a story just as riveting. That is the case with The Princess; no, not the Hulu film starring Joey King from earlier this year. The Princess gives an in-depth look at Princess Diana’s life once she entered the royal family and all of the baggage that came with that exempt of any talking heads or strong opinions to

Director Ed Perkins has found a way to tell a strong narrative while not using overbearing rhetoric as a weapon. The Princess rarely puts the viewer in a position where they have to choose sides. Much of that is due to the fact that all of The Princess is old footage that has been cleaned up for the film.

A still from The Princess. Photo courtesy of HBO.

And while some documentaries use a score as wallpaper — never allowing it to stand out — The Princess finds the right balance in its usage of music. The score, composed by Martin Phipps, is a royal delight. It likely helps that this is not Phipps’ first rodeo (or jubilee) when it comes to composing scores for projects about the royal family. In case you’re unaware, Phipps composed the score for the third and fourth seasons of The Crown. Ironically, the fourth season focuses on Princess Diana as well. Regardless, listen out for Phipps’ score; especially in the first half of the film.

Even as a member of the press, The Princess will have you looking in the mirror and thinking about the role we play. The documentary does a great job of capturing the media storm that Spencer only had flashes of; though, in fairness, that wasn’t the goal of Larraín’s film. Spencer treated the cheating controversy as a backdrop while The Princess gets knee-deep into the frenzy that Princess Diana’s life became after her marriage.

A still from The Princess. Photo courtesy of HBO.

And like Spencer, The Princess is able to humanize a figure like Princess Diana amidst all of the drama and extravagant weddings. She’s a tragic figure reminiscent of Tammy Faye (granted, on a much larger scale). Both had distant significant others and both were activists for causes they believed in. It was unbeknownst to me just how much Princess Diana did. Seeing her visit hospitals and attempt to be a human being made it clear why your family members likely still gush about her to this day.

The legacy of Princess Diana is unmatched, and films like The Princess are important to educate those who haven’t the slightest clue (like myself) of the impact she truly had on the world. Best of all, director Ed Perkins sits back and lets the film do all of the talking; there’s no strong-armed rhetoric trying to force you to believe that she was a candle in the wind. By the time that the film actually does document her unfortunate passing, it’ll hit you like a ton of bricks. The film treats the events as if they are unfolding in the present day, making you forget that this story doesn’t have a storybook ending. The film is premiering just weeks before the 25th anniversary of Princess Diana’s unfortunate death.

The Princess will premiere on HBO & HBO Max on August 13 at 8:00 pm ET.

Andrew Korpan

Andrew Korpan

Film "critic" and entertainment journalist whose work has been featured in Above the Line, Below the Line, Collider, /Film and Coastal House Media.
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