We are finally at a point in the telling of Netflix’s award-winning production “The Crown” that I remember experiencing in real life. The first four episodes, released on November 14, cover the last summer of Princess Diana’s life before her death in the early hours of August 31, 1997.
This day was especially memorable for me. Two weeks earlier, my cousin died in a tragic accident at the age of 37, just one year older than the Princess, and that morning, we were having a memorial mass for him. As we woke up and got ready for church, my dad (who had already been up for hours) was prepared and turned on the television to the news. Until then, I can’t say I was much of a monarchist. I was a young teen interested in the fairy tale of being royal, but the Royal Family wasn’t exciting. Still, Princess Diana’s death was intertwined with my cousin’s and had a profound effect on me.
Remember, in 1997, we had limited access to information and the sources we got them from. You either had the information on celebrities fed to the mainstream media, or you had the tabloid reporting, which wasn’t meant to be taken as the truth (at least not in my house), so somewhere in the mix of that was an unclear story. Was Princess Diana engaged to Dodi Fayed? Did the monarchy have her killed because she was pregnant with his child, which would have been disastrous for them (specifically because he was Muslim, by the way)? Why were they in Paris? Was the driver drunk? Why did the paparazzi care so much? Were they to blame? There were so many questions at the time and no verified answers (also, again, as a teenager, I didn’t question much outside of what impacted me directly because, hey, I was a teenager).
The first four episodes in this season of The Crown resonated with me because of all these questions and the profound memory I have of her death. I understand this show has never promised to be more than historical fiction. Still, now we live in a world of endless information, so much of what was portrayed in these four episodes was quickly verified by people there. Although we can never know what happened privately, there is enough accuracy to finally draw a realistic picture of who these people were and what happened. Thanks to Prince Harry’s memory, we also have his first-hand account of it - and even though I think a lot of that isn’t necessarily a fully formed perspective (that’s a whole other blog post, though), I think it is how he remembers it - and when it comes to history that’s all we have, people’s memories and their perspectives.
From a production perspective, I think Netflix did an excellent job of creating the narrative of these people, their relationship and their death in a very respectful and beautiful way. I will give them an artistic license and remember that it isn’t meant to be historically accurate, but I still appreciate all the factual questions answered.
Why were the paps so aggressive? Mario Brenna’s iconic photo of Princess Diana was sold to the UK tabloid The Mirror for £250,000, and photographers were incentivized to get a shot of the couple after that. Now, the show creates the narrative that Dodi’s father, Mohammed Al Fayed, was the one who hired Brenna to take the picture, a claim disputed by the photographer himself days after the episode.
Were they engaged? We will never know for sure, but we know Dodi bought her an engagement ring, did his father pressure him into asking? Both he and now his father are gone, so we’ll never know that for sure, but the way it was set up on The Crown tracks once you dig into who Mohammed al-Fayed was, and knowing what Middle Eastern parents are like - lol.
Was the driver drunk? We know that he had two drinks that night as he had thought he was done for the evening, but we also know he was on anti-depressants. 1997 we didn’t see the answer definitively, but after watching episode three, I started researching. It turns out that 2006 DNA evidence showed he was well over the legal limit.
We’ll also never know if this was some elaborate scheme by the royal family to “get rid” of the trouble-making royal. Still, enough time has passed and enough information (both good and bad) has come to light about the Queen to think it’s not even remotely a possibility.
I’m not sure where the final part of Season 6 will bring us, but I'm afraid I have to disagree with most reviewers who have hated the first half. If for no other reason, it reminds us what life was like before the height of the information age, but more importantly, part one is worth a watch because it brings a bit of closure to many of us impacted by that fateful car crash.