Death of the princess cast a deep pall over the film with a plot that pre­saged Diana’s tragic, fa­tal car crash THE SAGA OF THE ‘TASTE­LESS’ PRINCESS MOVIE


The death of Princess Diana cast a deep pall over the ‘taste­less’ movie Diana & Me with a plot that pre­saged her tragic, fa­tal car crash.

In the win­ter of 1998, di­rec­tor David Parker was anx­iously await­ing a de­ci­sion on the US fate of his royal rom-com, Diana & Me. He had brought his film to LA from Aus­tralia, where it had been re­leased sev­eral months ear­lier be­neath a cloud of un­ex­pected ghoul­ish­ness, and was hop­ing to con­vince a US distributor to buy it. Even if he recog­nised, in light of the tragic death of its in­spi­ra­tion, it would be a hard sell.

“Af­ter the screen­ing, they all just sat there,” Parker re­mem­bers of a packed pri­vate show­ing for the heads of var­i­ous ma­jor stu­dios. “I can re­mem­ber then go­ing, ‘No, it’s just not gonna work.’”

Two years prior, things were very dif­fer­ent. Diana & Me was en­vi­sioned as a big-bud­get rom-com trib­ute to the Princess Diana of the midNineties — the end­lessly gos­siped­about fig­ure that ex­isted in the wake of her heav­ily-pub­li­cised di­vorce, but be­fore the tun­nel in Paris.

The film cast Toni Col­lette as a tabloid-ob­sessed Aus­tralian woman with the very same name as the Princess: Diana Spencer. Af­ter win­ning a mag­a­zine com­pe­ti­tion, Diana is whisked off to Lon­don with the prom­ise of meet­ing her royal name­sake, only for the planned in­ter­ac­tion to go awry, land­ing her in a jail cell. Still ea­ger to in­ter­act with her idol, Diana joins forces with Do­minic West’s hand­some pa­parazzi pho­tog­ra­pher (gulp) to chase the royal su­per­star through the streets un­til they find her (dou­ble gulp).

Diana & Me was due for re­lease in Septem­ber 1997, with Aus­tralia’s Vil­lage Road­show Films plan­ning a size­able pro­mo­tional cam­paign for the film, one that would cap­i­talise on the Diana ma­nia of the era, as well as Col­lette’s bur­geon­ing movie star­dom. Muriel’s Wed­ding, the transat­lantic Aussie hit that launched Col­lette’s ca­reer just three years prior, was clearly be­ing used as a tem­plate, with hopes that Diana & Me would be met with the same rap­tur­ous re­sponse as its comedy pre­de­ces­sor.

“I liked the idea of Diana Spencer from Wol­lon­gong, Aus­tralia win­ning a com­pe­ti­tion and com­ing to the UK, ba­si­cally dis­grac­ing her­self at a Kens­ing­ton Palace garden party and end­ing in the lock-up,” ex­plains the di­rec­tor. “And her boyfriend just wants to sit in his room and watch the cricket. It’s a good state­ment on Aus­tralians abroad.”

On Au­gust 31, how­ever, ev­ery­thing changed. Princess Diana was killed in a car crash af­ter a chase through the streets of Paris, turn­ing what was at the time a story of a com­pelling, beau­ti­ful di­vorcee em­bark­ing on an ex­cit­ing new phase of her life into one blacked out by tragedy. Put into per­spec­tive, Diana & Me was one of the less im­por­tant things left blind-sided in the wake of that fate­ful car ride, but the tragedy did end up seal­ing its fate.

“Ev­ery­thing paled with Diana’s death,” Parker re­calls. “There was a world­wide re­ac­tion, and we were part of that. The dread­ful re­al­i­sa­tion that we had spent the last two years work­ing on a film think­ing it was just an­other story. It re­ally was such a shock to ev­ery­one. It took us a while to re­group and go, ‘What are we go­ing to do about this?’ Be­cause we sure as hell couldn’t re­lease it as it was.”

In the wake of Au­gust 31, Vil­lage Road­show pulled the film off its sched­uled Aus­tralian re­lease date, and plans to sell it to in­ter­na­tional dis­trib­u­tors, in­clud­ing ones in the UK, were im­me­di­ately halted. While

Diana & Me, in all of its forms, was re­spect­ful of the Princess of Wales her­self, the story’s light tone, and that so much of its plot was driven by the very same things that re­sulted in Diana’s death, made it an un­ex­pect­edly un­easy watch.

“There was no sense that we were do­ing some­thing provoca­tive,” Parker tells me. “It couldn’t be more ironic that we were on mo­tor­bikes and in cars and chas­ing Diana through Lon­don try­ing to get to her, and in Diana Spencer’s eyes just to meet her. And Do­minic West’s char­ac­ter, that was part of his job, so of course af­ter [Diana’s] death, that whole con­cept was just com­pletely taste­less, re­ally.”

Knuck­ling down with the film’s pro­ducer Matt Car­roll, Parker even­tu­ally de­cided that the only way to make Diana & Me at all sal­vage­able was to set it in the past, and in­sert ad­di­tional scenes that ac­knowl­edged the Princess of Wales’s real-life death.

“I don’t know whether it was an ex­er­cise in sav­ing the sink­ing ship,” Parker says. “We were all pre­pared to give it a go. There was a sense that there was a mar­ket for it, al­most as a his­tor­i­cal piece, I guess. But it wasn’t the case.”

Sev­eral months af­ter Diana’s death, Col­lette, West, Parker and a skele­ton crew re-as­sem­bled in Lon­don, where they shot two scenes in­serted as book­ends to the film. In them, Diana Spencer joins mourn­ers lay­ing flow­ers out­side of Kens­ing­ton Palace, dis­clos­ing in voiceover her sad­ness that the royal Diana will never get to know quite how much she changed her life. On set, the cast and crew found them­selves feel­ing un­com­fort­able.

“We shot out­side the real Kens­ing­ton Palace, and set up all the flow­ers and stuff like that,” Parker re­calls. “But we all felt a bit icky about it, ac­tu­ally. Cer­tainly Toni Col­lette did.”

We shot out­side the real Kens­ing­ton Palace. But we all felt a bit icky. Cer­tainly Toni Col­lette did.

Watch­ing Diana & Me, it’s a fit­ful- ly en­ter­tain­ing, en­tirely harm­less time cap­sule of a world very re­moved from the one we cur­rently in­habit. As a ro­mance, it’s not enor­mously com­pelling, but it is in­ter­est­ing to see a piece of lost cin­ema de­bate the moral im­pli­ca­tions of tabloid cul­ture only shortly be­fore the rest of the world did.

Diana’s death seemed, at least for a time, to pull us out of our col­lec­tive ob­ses­sion with celebrity voyeurism, con­vinc­ing us that there were real peo­ple with real trau­mas be­hind the papped pho­to­graphs splashed across news­pa­per front pages. Diana was no longer just an im­age ca­su­ally ex­ploited to sell pa­pers, but a hu­man be­ing with grow­ing chil­dren and a sig­nif­i­cant amount of in­ner tur­moil.

In Diana & Me, when Col­lette’s char­ac­ter be­gins to see the ruth­less, ugly fak­ery be­hind the sto­ries she so glee­fully con­sumes in her favourite mag­a­zines, the film be­comes a far more am­bi­tious, even pro­found work. At least for its era.

Judged to­day, it feels very much of its time, a fact driven home by a sound­track made up of the ar­chaic likes of Su­per­grass and the Brand New Heav­ies, a cameo by Kylie Minogue in her post-Nick Cave grunge era, and a Lon­don cap­tured smack in the mid­dle of Cool Bri­tan­nia. But it’s also sweet and nos­tal­gic; no Not­ting Hill, but cer­tainly a Martha Meet Daniel, Frank and Lau­rence. You might have to Google that last one.

Af­ter those emer­gency reshoots at Kens­ing­ton Palace, Diana & Me did even­tu­ally get an Aus­tralian re­lease date, open­ing in cin­e­mas shortly be­fore Christ­mas of 1997. But it met with mixed re­views and low box of­fice, Parker is now un­cer­tain whether Vil­lage Road­show gen­uinely had faith in it find­ing an au­di­ence. In­ter­na­tional dis­trib­u­tors were also largely put off by the spec­tre of the real-life Diana and the out­pour­ing of grief felt world­wide, and few wanted it on their hands.

“I just don’t think there was any ap­petite,” Parker says. “I did sense that, par­tic­u­larly in the UK.”

Ac­cord­ing to IMDb, the film did even­tu­ally de­but on Bri­tish tele­vi­sion in late 2000, but has never re­ceived a VHS or DVD re­lease on our shores. It hasn’t at all seen the light of day in the United States, and can cur­rently only be pur­chased on ob­scure Euro­pean DVDs un­earthed from the Ger­man mar­ket­place. But Parker is hope­ful that it’ll one day find an au­di­ence.

“Whereas most films con­tinue to have a life, this one is al­most im­pos­si­ble to get your hands on,” he says. “It’s a lit­tle bit of an enigma, I sup­pose. But I’d like to see it out there. I think we made quite a good film if you sep­a­rate your­self from the ac­tual event that hap­pened.”

It took us a while to re­group and go, ‘What are we go­ing to do about this?’ Be­cause we sure as hell couldn’t re­lease it as it was.” David Parker, di­rec­tor


Princess Diana at a cer­e­mony at Red Cross head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton to call for a global ban on anti-per­son­nel land­mines on June 17, 1997.

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