It was 1986 and we were in Kamloops, or maybe Kelowna. Somewhere in British Columbia where I wouldn’t have set foot otherwise if it hadn’t been for the media hustle and bustle of Charles and Diana’s Canadian tour.
It was five years after the start of their mismatched and ill-fated marriage. And the couple’s fate, as “working” royals, was to parade one endless public engagement after another, enduring obsequious babbling from local politicians, accepting bouquets of little girls, showing a keen interest in indigenous performances.
What I remember most clearly – but didn’t write down – is that Charles couldn’t keep his hands off his wife, constantly touching her in that intimate lovers’ way. At one point, he cupped his hand on her buttock and left it there. Later, as an official purred, they tilted their heads together and chuckled.
Yet at this point in their doomed union, if one believed the dissection of that marriage recounted by my friend Andrew Morton in his explosive reveal, “Diana: Her True Story” (the princess told the story , it was revealed after his death) – and a multitude of subsequent books – Diana and Charles were at daggers drawn. He would return soon after to Camilla Parker Bowles’ arms and she would embark on a five-year affair with Major James Hewitt.
But on this sunny day, they didn’t look like a quarreling and hostile couple at all. They radiated conjugal warmth.
Five years later, on another Canadian tour, Charles and Diana could barely look at each other during a layover in Kingston. And a year later, following a disastrous trip to South Korea, their last royal rant as Prince and Princess of Wales, the Queen put an end to the masquerade. They formally separated.
The thing is, you don’t know what’s going on inside a wedding, not even this one, endlessly autopsied, the protagonists both putting their spin on the events of the wedding. collapse below. Where Chuck ‘n’ Di first ventured – from emotional striptease bombs to “Panorama” (her), an ITV special (him) – has since become a TV tabloid path. for the royal family, always badly advised and counterproductive.
Queen Elizabeth II has never given an interview. He is a wise monarch.
When does a character become public property, a matter of historical fiction and literary license? âThe Crownâ was immensely entertaining but seedy about verifiable details of the interior of the House of Windsor bell, with made-up conversations and imagined scenarios.
Now comes âSpencer,â a big-screen movie that bills itself as âa fable of true tragedy,â which I suppose should be seen as a false warning, a completely made-up tale of an atrocious three-day must-see. . witness the Christmas conclave at Sandringham, Queen’s Norfolk Estate, made as spooky and ominous as the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining”.
Diana, channeled here by Kristen Stewart, becomes totally off-balance, so she hallucinates about Anne Boleyn, the specter in her bedroom, wandering around midnight around the sprawling property, staring at a scarecrow she sits up in one of her outfits, clinging to her young sons like a low branch over a flowing river and spending an inordinate amount of time regurgitating food down the toilet – the bulimia that plagued her . Indeed, the film poster represents Diana on her knees in a magnificent dress that unfolds behind, her head disappearing into the shadows. What is not depicted in this scene is Diana’s head in the bathroom.
What we see, in Diana’s runaway phantasmagoria, is the princess ingesting a row of pearls she snapped in her soup, then sliding them across the dinner table. This, presumably, indicates Diana’s inner turmoil. Director Pablo Larrain does not aim for subtlety. He opts for a full-fledged psychodrama. I laughed.
But I felt sorry for Di, as I always have, knowing how damaged she had been as a young girl abandoned by a fiery mother; then, barely 20 years old, thrown into the royal whirlwind of pomp and protocol, rigorously constrained by courtiers, driven mad with jealousy, ruinous needy and aspiring to the love of a husband whose passions were expended for his teacher.
You can’t expect a generation that grew up without Diana as the world’s most famous, most photographed, and most hunted woman in the world to understand the phenomenon of Di Mania. She finally managed to harness this power. She learned to play with the media. And the Diana touch – her empathy – was genuine.
This film, however, is an abomination, another brick in Diana the Mad Hatter’s wall, even though it tends to blame Charles and the bizarre world of royalty, monsters and minions, for his state of mind in disintegrating. She achieved release, you know, although Diana later admitted that she never wanted a divorce. She wanted the Charles the fairy tale had promised.
As the 25th anniversary of her death in a Paris tunnel car crash – chased by paparazzi on motorcycles – approaches next summer, I expect the cult of Diana to catch its breath. But I wish we would stop feasting on his bones with exploitation films like âSpencer,â which are just shiny garbage.
It is still too early for any meaningful historical perspective. I suspect that in much the longer term, Diana will be reduced to a royal footnote that sparkled and dazzled for a moment before her flame was violently extinguished. But she gave the kingdom a future king, her blood flows through the primogeniture of rulers.
What this monarchy will look like in the not distant future is unpredictable. The queen at 95 and, for the first time in memory, seems to succumb to the ravages of age, recently sidelined by health problems. Whether the institution can survive after Her Majesty Elizabeth receives her just reward is debatable. Charles and his wife Camilla are not loved. The hereditary monarchy in the 21st century is a pact between citizens and nobility. In a family of remarkable longevity, it could be decades before William ascends to the throne, if there is a throne to assume.
But William would restore his mother to the HRH title she lost during her divorce, apparently at Charles’ insistence.
From the People’s Princess to the Popcorn Princess. From tragic fable to celluloid twaddle.
“Spencer” is not holding a candle – lit at both ends – to Diana.