The gift and the book itself are fictional. The 2021 film, directed by Pablo Larraín, also starts from the idea that where there is a martyr there must be a monster. Elizabeth is a freeze-dried witch, Charles a snarling moralist. Perhaps to avoid accusations of defamation, the filmmakers identify their story, in an introductory caption, as “a fairy tale based on a true tragedy.”
A fairy tale and a tragedy, I grant you: the famous plot of Diana’s story, if not her unknown soul, is Grimm itself.
But the word “true” is nowhere near “Spencer.” No reliable story has suggested, for example, that the princess tied a bowl full of pearls emancipated from a necklace the size of Flintstones given to her by her unfaithful husband. Nor is she known to have hallucinated Boleyn, which drove her to self-harm, or to dismiss a lady-in-waiting, as is done, saying: “Now leave me, I wish to masturbate.”
Well, surrealism is as convenient a fig leaf as any under which to hide one’s sins. And at least “Spencer” means being sympathetic, if sympathy can coexist with defamation. Transforming Diana into a martyr by depriving her of all decorum means transforming her into a madman: a threat to herself and perhaps to her children. When she plants herself in the middle of a pheasant sprout, anything except daring her family to kill her, our sympathy began to ebb. Maybe the monsters were onto something.
Schemer, hysterical, victim, saint: Diana may have been one or all of these things, as even a fanboy must admit. In the end I didn’t know her. That doesn’t mean I can stand watching the writers, pretending to, torture her like she was once tortured by the paparazzi, only this time she For Your Consideration as prize bait. A woman whose grieving children are still alive is not primarily an artistic opportunity, let alone a financial opportunity. Her value as gossip or as evidence in a political discussion does not trump her right, even in death, to her personal integrity.