It’s been almost a quarter of a century since the fatal accident of Diana, Princess of Wales, but she feels more alive than ever. The recent release of Pablo Larraín’s Spencer only reawakened the public’s interest in the beloved royal — an interest built from an enduring legacy of not just beauty and glamour, but more importantly, activism and an unwavering dedication to victims of disease and social injustice.
That’s why many shows and movies have done their best to tell the story of the People’s Princess — the story of her life and death, and everything that happened in between — and place her front and center on our screens.
Not all of these titles capture her story and package it well, though. Some, like Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana (2013) biopic, shed very little light on the enigmatic figure. The melodramatic script and direction were met with scathing reviews, with Naomi Watts, who played the titular character, even describing the film as a ‘sinking ship’.
The film currently has a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and a measly — yet, somehow, too generous — 5.5 on IMDb. Not even a 2021 Broadway production from Tony Award-winning writers, which Netflix filmed and streamed, is safe from the harsh criticism of Diana’s adoring public.
The good news is, there are movies that give a more unbiased view of Princess Di, or at least a fairer assessment from an outsider’s perspective, that are well-made and entertaining. So whether you’re a Diana devotee or just beginning to get to know the well-loved princess who was gone too soon, here are some notable titles to see, ranked according to their IMDb rating.
5. Spencer (2021) – 6.9
The film that’s bringing back Diana into the big screens and in our memories is not your average Christmas feature. Acclaimed Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín takes us through three days in the Princess’s life that take place over the holidays.
Although fictional, this time period is based on rumors and real-life events. Kristen Stewart, in what may well be the biggest role of her career, is breathtakingly moving as a woman facing constant scrutiny one can only expect from the royal family and the media. One example of that is how Diana is weighed before and after the holidays, a tradition that began with King Edward VII’s reign in the 1900s.
It’s easy to take Diana’s behavior as ill-mannered. However, wearing an outfit that wasn’t pre-approved, arriving late to meals, and leaving the estate without permission could also be read as quiet rebellion — be that against the stringent royal protocol or her loveless marriage to Prince Charles.
“This is a film that truly demonstrates how cinema can elevate any story,” writes Wilson Kwong of Film Inquiry. “No matter how familiar, in ways that no other artistic medium can.”
4. Diana, 7 Days (2017) – 7.5
The 20th anniversary of Diana’s death in 2017 spurred the production of several documentaries to commemorate the princess and address unanswered questions. One of the most poignant is BBC’s Diana, 7 Days, which tackles the impact of the princess’s passing on the public and on her family.
In the film, Prince William and Prince Harry, who were 15 and 12 years old, respectively, at the time of her passing, share their memories of the aftermath of her accident.
Thrust into the limelight and as the public grieved her loss, the boys went through a test of their composure and resilience. Prince William recalled, “…in order not to completely and utterly break down, you have to put on a bit of a game face. Otherwise, you’re a walking mess.” The accounts from close family and friends make 7 Days a personal and moving documentary worthy of a view.
3. Unlawful Killing (2011) – 7.6
“I don’t think many people will want me to be queen. Actually, when I say many people, I mean the establishment that I married into because they have decided that I’m a non-starter.”
Those were Diana’s candid words in a now-famous episode of Panorama in 1995. Footage of this interview is included in Unlawful Killing, a controversial documentary dissecting the many theories surrounding the death of Princess Diana and then-partner Dodi Fayed.
Responding to criticisms of the film, Director Keith Allen believes that Unlawful Killing doesn’t sensationalize the events surrounding the couple’s untimely demise. Instead, he’s merely asking the burning questions many people have, and presenting information that’s available to whoever’s interested.
While engrossing at times, viewers also need to take the documentary with a grain of salt. The clips of courtroom reconstructions, road surveillance, and interviews are sewn haphazardly and leave more questions than answers.
2. Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy (2017) – 7.6
Another title commissioned by the two princes, this time broadcast by HBO, this film is a portrait of Diana as a mother. It was no secret that she remained devoted to her two sons, even when a rift started forming in her marriage to Prince Charles. Up to this day, the late princess is still revered for how she handled motherhood under the watchful eye of the palace and the public.
There are many instances Diana broke royal protocol to walk the boys to their schools instead of letting their professional carers take them or to sneak away from their bodyguards and enjoy private moments together. Even decades after her death, the princes consider Diana a wonderful mother who loved to infect others with her laughter.
All she wanted was to give her boys a “life outside of palace walls,” as remembered by Prince William in Our Mother.
1. Diana: In Her Own Words (2017) – 7.8
Celebrity biographies are Andrew Morton’s chosen genre to write. The British journalist penned Diana: Her True Story, the basis of the film of a similar title, from a series of interviews that the late royal taped in 1991.
The intimate documentary gives the floor to Diana, who rarely spoke of her issues out of her duty to the crown. That’s why the footage feels like a confession or a friend confiding her most revealing thoughts and secrets.
In the tapes, Diana shares her heartbreak over Prince Charles’ long-term affair with Camila Parker Bowles. She opens up about how isolated she felt from the royal family, despite being born to nobility herself. Diana talks about becoming the People’s Princess, an identity she relied on for her life-changing humanitarian work.
The most painful points of the film come with her confession of the darkness that consumed her — a depression that led her to self-harm and fueled her eating disorder. She struggled through the pivotal and very public moments of her life, like her wedding and pregnancy.
All the movies and documentaries based on the late royal often only show the glamorous and the scandalous bits of her life. While the revelations from In Her Own Words are difficult to listen to, they are essential in painting a fuller, more faithful, portrait of the late Princess Diana.