Even though I have seen “Diana: The Musical” twice in two weeks, I still believe it to be one of those “30 Rocks” fake movies with Jenna Maroney.
If you haven’t yet seen the schlocky new Netflix special (now streaming), it’s a filmed version of the incoming Broadway production, which returns to New York’s Longacre Theatre on Nov. 2. The mostly sung-through show tries to distill the too-short life of Princess Diana (Jeanna de Waal) into a two-hour rock opera, with all the subtlety of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch.
The People’s Princess is just one of the many projects trying to open the eyes to the People’s Princess. Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer” (in theaters Nov. 5) is already garnering Oscar talk for Kristen Stewart’s transformative performance. The award-winning Emma Corrin played Lady Di in Season 4. Elizabeth Debicki will play her role in “The Crown”, Netflix’s fourth season.
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These follow less memorable portrayals: Naomi Watts’ critically savaged 2013 biopic “Diana,” and Bonnie Soper, who appeared in flashbacks as the Princess of Wales in 2018’s made-for-TV movie “Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance.”
“We’ve never been able to get enough of this woman,” says Boston University history professor Arianne Chernock. The dramatizations range from “The Crown” and “Spencer”, but the new batch doesn’t particularly help Prince Charles. They helped humanity William and demonstrate that he wants to affirm some of her values. Harry and William have both used their very privileged positions to shine a light on pressing social issues. They did it not in honor of their mother but out of her spirit.
CNN continues the projects with “Diana”, a six-part documentary series about Diana’s influence and legacy. PBS debuted a new documentary about Lady Diana this summer, as part of the network’s “In Their Own Words” series. And earlier this year, it was reported that Harry, who perhaps has the most license to discuss his mother’s interior life, signed a four-book deal worth $20 million with publisher Penguin Random House.
“The high price of the book deal signed by Prince Harry will doubtless have been driven up by the fact that she will feature in his memoir,” says Jonathan Sacerdoti, a British journalist and royal commentator. “Diana’s image can still bring in the bucks, even all these years after her death.”
It is Lady Di’s ‘crudely offensive caricature’.
It remains to be determined if “Diana,” can draw Broadway audiences back. Netflix’s taping has received only 8% of the negative reviews from aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes. The show’s San Diego production got less favorable reviews in 2019.
Despite some hooky melodies, the over-earnest musical is hampered by laughably banal lyrics. One of Diana’s many glories is “I could use an prince to rescue me from my prince” or “Serves you right for marrying Scorpio”.These are some of the most egregious thoughts. Diana’s emotional real-life crusade to destigmatize HIV/AIDS turns into a borderline offensive hospital visit with gay stock characters, who bemoan not having eyeliner and throw shade at her outfit. (“I’m not blind, I’m sick!” One says.
The princess is frequently sidelined in her own musical by Camilla Parker Bowles (Erin Davie), longtime mistress and now wife to Princes Charles (Roe Hartrampf). Their soapy love triangle culminates in a birthday party smackdown between the two women, as a group of onlookers chants, “It’s the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ but with Diana and Camilla / So hold onto your hats, these cats are gonna fight.”
Sacerdoti explains that “Diana” is “so terrible, it has made many wonder whether it was intentionally comedic but it appears it was meant as a serious presentation about her life.” “It was disrespectful both to Diana and to her family as well as the Queen. This is a crude, offensive caricature that depicts reality.
Chernock adds that Crass was true, but “it struck me as an ultimate American narrative.” The show’s creators Joe DiPietro (keyboardist for Bon Jovi) co-created it. They were more focused on rhyming lyrics than “mapping those emotions onto real people caught in a real political system. Harry might say that they were ‘trapped. Or, Harry would say “trapped.”
The musical clumsily attempts to critique the public’s appetite for all things Diana, who was killed in a 1997 car crash moments after being chased by paparazzi. The audience is greeted by a chorus made up of staffers from the royal household singing “All you sots can’t get enough” to their delight. “Have you no shame?”) The message is hollow, however, when it comes from such a sensationalized and extravagant show.
Kristen Stewart will be next to imitate Diana in “Spencer”
Projects that reflect Diana’s playful spirit and enthusiasm for life are the best representations of her, who was 36 when she died.
“Spencer,” a film that almost forgets the history of England, imagines one weekend in the lives of Diana, the reluctant monarch. She dreams up the Christmas celebrations at a country manor and dances around the property. Although the movie is at times claustrophobic, moody, it does find joy in tiny moments with Diana and her two young boys (Jack Nielen & Freddie Spry).
“I’ve been asked a lot about whether it’s cool to try and tell someone’s story when they’re not around – somebody who was already so invaded (by the media),” Stewart said at the Toronto International Film Festival last month. We don’t pretend to have any knowledge or new information. “… I hope that, because it was so intimate, she will not see us as merely carrying on her legacy.”
Netflix’s “The Crown,” a more fiery and nuanced version of Diana, also features Netflix. Chernock states that Corrin did not attempt to imitate Diana’s character in a perfect way. Corrin captures Diana’s evolution from shy genius to the independent, calculating woman who discovered her power. Diana is a fascinating person.
“What is so sad about her death? She died young at the point of appearing to have found firmer feet and a greater sense of self, independent of the royal family.”
It’s that arc, of a woman who learned to embrace her true self, that still resonates. You should tell her story. Perhaps Lin-Manuel Miranda can handle bio-musicals.
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