Spencer – A new movie cashing on the same old Lady Diana trope

If you’re a Lady Diana fan and have come upon this article on this fine day, especially after watching the trailer of Spencer, you’re in for a debate where I, a historic fiction fan, would like to put forward my point that Lady Diana’s life has now become a trope every storyteller wants to explore even if it seems almost lackluster.

Lady Diana fan

But let’s not get hasty and start with the basics.

What is a trope?

A trope is a common expression or theme used to tell a story that, at times, becomes so overused that it becomes too common or conventional. To give you pop cultural references, recent entertainment tropes included dystopian fiction that started with the Hunger Games, followed by the likes of Divergent, The Maze Runner, and The Handmaid’s Tale, including others.

The vampire and werewolf trope was also here to stay, starting more or less with the bizarre world of Twilight and The Vampire Diaries, giving way to spinoffs like The Originals, Teen Wolf, and such.

But the thing about these stories is that while they all followed the same theme, their stories and characters were different, had somewhat different backstories, and separate worlds. But that can’t be said about the “Diana trope”, which has, time and again, cashed on the same old story of a real-life damsel who couldn’t be saved from her distress. A tale as old as time that’s as far away from a fairy tale as one could imagine.

It’s a relevant story, but…

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Lady Diana. She got caught in the wrong situation at a time when the British monarch wasn’t considered as problematic as they are now. Her naivete gave way to a lifetime of suffering that’s a reflection of how the society treats women whom they believe are a means to an end – which in this case was her being the mother of royal heirs of impeccable heritage. While her story dates back decades, her plight is similar to those a lot of women find themselves in when stuck in incompatible marriages or relationships. So in that context, I understand why telling her story is so important.

But, do we need to tell the same story over and over again for it to make an impact?

Look, I know the metaphor of nailing a concept by hammering it multiple times in the head. But is this the only story left to hammer to remind the world how unfairly society treats women they deem disposable?

Diana in entertainment

To prove the point that I’ve put across above, I researched a few movies that followed the alleged Diana trope and found out that there have been a lot of attempts at retelling the woman’s story, whether fictional or non-fictional and to credit the makers of these films and shows, with time, they’ve gotten better at telling it.

Diana in entertainment

Charles & Diana: A Royal Love Story (1982)

Was it propaganda or a daydream? This movie from the early 80s tells a fairytale-ish version of the Charles and Diana story which, by the way, doesn’t really seem very plausible knowing the facts that we know now.

Serena Scott Thomas – Diana: Her True Story (1993)

A made-for-TV movie, this one tells the “true story” of Diana in one of the original stories that were, of course, followed by a lot of other movies and shows, including Princess in Love in 1996, Diana: A Tribute to the People’s Princess in 1998, and Diana: Last Days of a Princess in 2007.

Diana (2013)

Naomi Watts plays Diana in this fictional retelling of her life after her divorce from Prince Charles, but while I’ll credit them to try a new approach in telling Diana’s story, you can tell by the trailer that the movie tanked at the box office. No, really, as of now, it has a 7% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

My Mother, Diana

Prince William’s story of Princess Diana and how her death impacted their lives. A play at making the royals seem more relatable, maybe.

Diana, In her own words

A Netflix documentary, this piece shows an insider view of her life through a series of exclusive, secret interviews. Because this wasn’t exactly backed by the monarchs, it showed a very real picture of what happened in Diana’s life.

The Crown, Season 4 (2020)

My favorite so far is the Diana story told in Netflix’s award-winning show, The Crown. The series started with Queen Elizabeth’s story from when she gained the throne and it’s in its fourth season that the show started telling Diana’s story and that too in good detail. Honorary mention to Emma Corrin for playing her part so well. She’ll be taken over by Elizabeth Dibicki for the fifth season next year.

Spencer (2021)

And finally, the movie that made me write this article – Spencer. Yet unreleased, Spencer seems to be another retelling of the story, this time starring Kristen Stewart as the main lead. While her evolution from playing the emotionally stunted Bella Swan to being chosen as the “people’s princess” is commendable, the story is, again, the same tune being played by a different musician.

The three Dianas of the 22nd Century

While the list above shows some of the most notable works about Diana, it’s the three artists of this century who are currently the leading faces of this trope. Let’s take a look at their timeline here:

  • Emma Corrin – plays Lady Diana in The Crown’s season four, released in 2020.
  • Kristen Stewart – plays Lady Diana in Spencer, a movie released in 2021.
  • Elizabeth Debicki – will play Lady Diana in The Crowns’ season five, expected to release in 2022.

The three Dianas

My point here is do we really need a recurring version of a woman spurned by the Royal family in three different versions, with the same story that’s being told since the 90s? That’s a trope right there, there’s no denying that.

The life and likes of Lady Diana

I didn’t really write this article to disregard the efforts of everyone who’s tried to tell the very important story of yet another person the British monarchs failed in their term as, well, monarchs. But there’s more to her life than a sad marriage and that’s what my issue with this trope lies.

Diana wasn’t just the Princess of Wales, she had a life besides that too. Her life as a humanitarian is something not a lot of people know about. Did you know that she used to wear velvet when visiting blind hospitals to seem more approachable to the patients? She once auctioned off 79 of her dresses to raise funds for cancer and AIDs causes and wore chunky jewelry when visiting children’s hospitals so she could have them play with those pieces.

When she used to go on official visits to different countries, she was sensitive enough to wear appropriate clothes that matched the country’s culture. She’s been known for her compassionate nature, and there are also rumors – and a full episode of Urban Myths – of her hanging out with Freddie Mercury, which makes her pretty cool in my opinion.

So, if writing a story on Diana is so important, why paint her in the same light every single time? Why not explore parts of her life that are actually more interesting and fun? Is this just a capitalist vendetta against the royals that keeps churning out movies after movies about her failed marriage? Or are we such a sad race that we just need to watch another person’s misery romanticized to this extent to feel better about ourselves?

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Zainab Abdul Rehman

Content and strategy specialist with a head full of ideas that I never get time to execute.

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