Sunday Film Review (1996)
Diana & Me
November 1996 | Written by Peter Thompson
The death of Diana, Princess of Wales, caused a convulsion of grief around the world. It also provoked a heated debate about the ethics of the popular media. We might not be much closer to agreement about where the line should be drawn between public curiosity and personal privacy. But we have all thought about it more deeply than before. Significantly, a film dealing with these precise issues was nearing completion when Diana was killed. David Parker’s films have always had a sharp social awareness, and like Malcolm, Ricky & Pete and The Big Steal - Diana & Me is a comedy. But it now has an even sharper edge. David Parker says, “I love this idea of a girl called Diana Spencer from Wollongong, I think that is such a great concept, who is obviously obsessed with her namesake in London and who wins a contest and goes there.” There were intriguing comic possibilities. But David Parker also liked the wider implications of the story. “The idea of not doing sledge hammer message-making films is certainly the way I like making films. I like the idea of making comedies. But stick a message in there as well. It’s there if you want to take it. And in Diana & Me it’s certainly there.”

Diana Spencer, that’s Toni Collette, travels to London with her fiance, Mark, played by Malcolm Kennard. She’s a smart girl and she hero-worships Princess Diana, who was born on the same day. But she finds London very different from what she expects. Of her role Toni Collette says, “I really liked the character of Diana. She’s really independent and honest and did things on screen which I haven’t seen people do.” Diana is about to realise her dream of meeting the Princess but she finds she’s prevented from getting close to the Princess by the very people who have fed her obsession. David Parker had first hand knowledge of the media’s interaction with royalty. And the story of Diana & Me, originally conceived by writer Elizabeth Coleman, explored this in a way which touched him directly. “Strangely enough, it was the Royal tour in 1983 that I had covered for Time Magazine. So that was Princess Diana’s first tour here…there were lots of issues that I was very interested in,” he says. Thrown together involuntarily with freelance photographer Rob Naylor - that’s British actor Dominic West - Diana becomes aware of the other side of the dream machine, the stalking of celebrities by the so-called ‘paparazzi’ or gutter press. “It was extraordinary when I first got the news. It was absolutely devastating…and then probably two days later, I started thinking about the film,” Parker recalls.

Diana & Me had been shot almost a year before the events in Paris. Suddenly, with the film ready for release, everything was different. “In those weeks after the death, it meant that we virtually had an un-releasable film, I think. As time’s gone by, that’s changed. The important thing that we had to do as filmmakers was to set the film in the past and to give people the license to sit in this film and enjoy it as a romantic comedy. Knowing what had happened, this dreadful event that has affected all of us, and that this film has something to say about that,” believes Parker. Nothing had prepared Toni Collette for the ways things developed, or for the perspective it gave to the film. She says: “Who expects death? Certainly, we all die but for the film to be so prophetic and to actually raise issues and actual events: like, there’s a car chase and limo drivers drinking in the back of a limousine and it actually deals with the paparazzi stalking Diana. And then for it to actually happen in real life - it’s very bizarre. I mean, it was shot over a year ago and it does, the film has inherited a certain weight.” But for the most part, Diana & Me is a very playful, raucous comedy. Collette says, “I didn’t really respect the monarchy, I think it’s archaic that they even exist in this day and age. For me, playing someone who was such a fanatic, so obsessed with Princess Diana, the thing is, it could have been anyone. It’s about her obsession. It just happened that the writer focused on Princess Diana.”

The tragedy of the death of the Princess of Wales at first appeared to end the prospect of Diana & Me ever being seen. With time and some judicious reshaping, the film is now ready for release. It remains to be proved whether its fortuitous connection to that momentous event will attract or repel audiences. But once inside the cinema, you’ll find a robust but good hearted comedy which, if you care to think about it, has some wise things to say about our curious obsession with people touched, or cursed, by fame.