Directing The Princess—the new, much-buzzed about documentary on HBO that chronicles the life in the spotlight of the late Princess Diana—reminded filmmaker Ed Perkins of two current members of the royal family who generate the same type of media attention: Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Perkins told PEOPLE that the parallels between the late Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex are obvious, specifically surrounding Harry and Meghan’s decision in 2020 to step back as working members of the royal family—and the intense public reaction that followed.
“For a space of about a month or two, it seemed like [Harry and Meghan] were the only thing people were talking about,” Perkins says. “Very few people were apathetic, and it reminded me of the response I was seeing in the archive from 25, 30 years previously, where, for the entirety of Diana’s public life, we were dissecting everything.”
The Princess, which began streaming last weekend on HBO and HBO Max, tells Diana’s story exclusively through archive footage and commentary. Producers combed through 1,000 hours of film to pull together the documentary, which delves specifically into Diana’s complex relationship with the media.
“People had strong, polarized opinions all the way throughout her life and after her death, and it did feel interesting that there was a sort of similar national conversation happening 25 years later,” he says.
The Princess is told as if viewers are watching it unfold in real time, and “our intention was to create a film that, first and foremost, felt kind of emotionally driven and immersive and that we would give audiences the space to kind of come to their own conclusions and bring their own hindsight to bear on this story,” Perkins says.
In his attempt to tell a “fair and balanced” story, Perkins says he came out of the project “feeling a lot more sympathetic” towards the characters involved, Diana and the royal family included.
They are “human beings with all the same flaws and fallibilities as you and I, but living in this very complicated and sensitive position in society,” he says. “They’re trying to do a very difficult job well, and, like all of us, don’t always get it right.”
And, though similarities between Diana’s story certainly exist with Harry and Meghan’s own unfolding experience, Perkins says ultimately The Princess chronicles a woman who spent half her life “as the most famous person in the world,” he says. “That’s an extraordinary thing to even comprehend…And so our hope is to try to tell the story with the lightness of touch and give audiences the respect and the space to come to their own conclusions and bring that hindsight to bear.”
Rachel Burchfield is a writer whose primary interests are fashion and beauty, society and culture, and, most especially, the British Royal Family. In addition to serving as the royal editor at Marie Claire, she has worked with publications like Vogue, Vanity Fair, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, and more. She cohosts Podcast Royal, a show that provides candid commentary on the biggest royal family headlines and offers segments on fashion, beauty, health and wellness, and lifestyle.
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