Review: Diana on Netflix

  • Release Date: 10/1/21
  • Where to Watch: Netflix
  • Starring: Jeanna De Waal, Roe Hartrampf, Erin Davie, Judy Kaye
  • Summary: The dazzling and devastating life of Princess Diana takes center stage in this original musical, filmed in advance of its official Broadway opening.
  • Rating: ★★★

I have long been fascinated by the British Royal family. There was a giant British family tree on the wall in our house growing up, and I loved to study it. I also remember the day in 1997 when Diana died. I must admit that I was a little wary of a musical telling her story in light of the concerns her son, Harry, recently raised about the way she was treated by the British press. I didn’t get to see Diana on Broadway before the shutdown in 2020, so I was excited to learn that it was going to be filmed for Netflix.

Jeanna De Waal is radiant as Princess Diana. She exudes the same charm and easy likability that Diana herself did. The audience can really see all of the emotional ups and downs in Diana’s journey through her performance. It is certainly not easy to play someone at 19 and at 35, but De Waal nails it. Her voice is gorgeous and a great fit for Diana’s pop score as well.

I do not think that Prince Charles is a good person, and I have only become more and more disappointed in him over the years. Diana really brings many of his flaws into stark relief. I was horrified to see the petty way he resented her popularity with the British public and the way he describes her as “common.” Roe Hartrampf’s performance certainly captures the “priggish Prince of Wales” as Diana describes him. He also looks like the prince, which doesn’t hurt.

It really disturbed me that Diana portrays Charles’ marriage to Diana as a scheme thought up by Charles and Camila Parker-Bowles. After having seen Six so many times, it struck me how similar the story of Diana and Charles’ marriage sounded to the stories the queens of Henry VIII tell of their marriages nearly 500 years earlier.

As much as Charles is the villian in Diana, the British monarchy is also the villain of this story. It is the monarchy that keeps Charles and Diana in a marriage that makes them both miserable. It is also the monarchy that puts Diana in a position where she is being hounded by the press, which eventually lead to her death. I also get the sense that Diana would have had better mental health care for her post-partum depression if it hadn’t been a prince she’d given birth to.

I remember an episode of Smash where the writers of a musical about Marilyn Monroe discuss writing from the gaze of the people who were constantly observing Marilyn. Diana seems to try to balance discussion of the way Diana was judged by public opinion with portrayal of her private life. Songs like “Snap Click” really capture the claustrophobia Diana must have felt from the paparazzi. There is also a lot of focus on Charles and Camila’s point of view on Diana. Because the two of them are so deeply unlikable, I didn’t want to hear so much from them. I wanted more of Diana’s perspective, especially since she didn’t get to share enough of it when she was alive.

There was too much focus for my liking on Diana’s appearance. In fact, there is an entire song (“Dress”) about her dressing up in a way that would get back at Charles for confessing to cheating on her. One of the lines in the song is actually, “What better way to impress then to show a flash of flesh?” Diana was a woman who deeply cared for the people of Britain and who was known for her philanthropy. There are certainly better ways for her to impress.

There are other moments of Diana that fall empty and flat. Barbara Cartland, a romance author, is a character in the show. She represents Diana’s romantic fantasies that helped her escape her difficult childhood. However, the character herself is portrayed as silly and doesn’t really seem to add much to the story.

Diana‘s score by David Bryan and Joe DiPietro is catchy and definitely stuck with me. It also has a definitively 80s and 90s pop sound, which is very appropriate for the setting of the story. Diana also discusses how much Diana herself was a fan of Queen, Elton John, and Duran Duran, which makes me think Diana would have been a fan of the style of the score too.

Going into the musical, I knew how it was going to have to end: with a car crash in Paris. The ending is particularly devastating when it follows Diana singing about her hopes for her future. She wanted to go to America, to have more children, to continue her charitable work. I am so sad that she never had the chance to explore any of those ambitions.

I am eager to see Diana live now. It resumes performances on November 2 at the Longacre.

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