Princess Diana in fiction & me

Princess Diana portrayals in movies – they hold a sort of fascination for me and yet they can never live up to what I expect from them. Not that I exactly know what I want, I just want them to feel authentic and good and somehow they never are good enough. Why this sudden interest? Well, I actually went to see a Diana musical (gasp!) in a theatre in Amsterdam a few days ago. Let me explain (in a long and rambling way)…

In 1981 Charles and Diana got married. We were on summer holiday in England at the time and the night before the wedding we (a family of 10) went to Hyde Park to see the fireworks and hopefully see Prince Charles, who was apparently attending that night. I remember Hyde Park being busy, we sat somewhere on the grass with our picnic dinner in a less crowded part, and of course we never even caught a glimpse of Charles. The fireworks were great, though. We all watched the royal wedding itself the next day in the TV room of the campsite we were staying at. My younger sister was 8, I was 11, and we, like so very many girls that age, were captivated by Lady Diana and also that royal wedding. At home, we collected pictures and stuck them into scrapbooks.

By my mid teens I still liked looking at pictures of Diana and reading about her and seeing her on TV, but I lost that fangirling quality. I was more impressed by other royals (European royalty is always a big thing in German gossip magazines and I read a lot of gossip magazines then) such as the Swedish queen Silvia, who seemed to have more gravitas, but even that waned when I hit 15 or so. Still, with Diana being such a famous woman and me still quite liking her, I did read about her marriage falling apart in the early 1990s and I saw the famous TV interviews both she and Prince Charles gave and I even read that book Andrew Morton wrote about her. Once, in the early 1990s, I even saw the back of her when I was in London. It was pure chance, I was walking by a very busy Leicester Square, heard Princess Diana was there and then spotted the back of her surrounded by a crowd disappearing into a cinema for some film premiere.

When she died, like the rest of the world, I was shocked. I can still clearly remember finding out. It was a Sunday morning, Mr E and I had been living together for a year and we were sleeping in when my younger sister, then 24, called me, then 27, to tell me Diana was dead. It felt unreal, she had just seemed to be coming into her own by then, but there it was.

So yes, while I would never consider myself a particular fan, Diana did always hold a sort of fascination for me and I had more than a passing interest in her. It’s why I also was happy to visit her childhood home Althorp a few years ago.

Anyway, back to adaptations on Diana’s life. My interest for such a work of fiction was first piqued when I was 13 or so and I saw an early dramatization of Diana’s romance on TV, in a film called The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana, starring Catherine Oxenberg (from 1982).

I liked the fairytale romance quality of it but at the time I didn’t think Oxenberg made a great Diana and I remember especially her shyness and innocence feeling over the top and fake to me. Although I haven’t seen the film in maybe 35 years, I even remember thinking that most of it was lies. Pretty lies that I wanted to believe, but lies nonetheless and therefore not really authentic. It was charming in many ways but also fake in a way that even naive little me didn’t buy it. (Oh goodness, I now find the movie is available on YouTube! Should I watch it again?)

I know there have been more Diana portrayals after that (even a sequel with Catherine Oxenberg reprising the role of Diana) but I didn’t watch them because I always felt there was too little to go on to make good movies about her. I also felt that no one looked right or felt right for the Diana role. In addition, Charles is always the one being vilified and while I’m not a fan of his, that does seem like a very one-sided viewpoint. I’m sure the man has his qualities as well.

Then in 2013, I finally did brave a film called Diana starring Naomi Watts in the titular role and Naveen Andrews as the surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan with whom Diana had fallen in love. I like Naveen Andrews, so he was what finally drew me in to actually watch this.

The film focussed on that love story and while intriguing (how can the world’s most famous and hunted woman, and British royalty at that, even hope to build a life with a publicity shy Pakistani doctor?), it did largely feel like conjecture as well. The film was alright, I liked it better than the Oxenberg one, but Naomi Watts never quite convinced me as Princess Diana. I like Naomi Watts, just not so much as Diana either.

More recently, I watched season 4 of The Crown because I was curious to see how Diana would be portrayed there (I have yet to watch seasons 1-3 but season 4 didn’t convince me enough to give the earlier seasons a try). Although Emma Corrin won an Emmy for her portrayal of Princess Diana, she never quite did it for me.

She does sound like her and dress like her and sort of have her hair (it never looked quite right, too stiff somehow), but her portrayal always felt more like an imitation of mannerisms to me and not an embodiment of Diana.

So yeah, an actress portraying Diana can never do it quite right in my eyes and I wonder if Kristen Stewart will finally convince me in the upcoming Spencer movie…

Not only are there books and movies about Diana, there are also musicals! One will be coming to New York City later this year and that musical will also come to Netflix. I’m not sure if I can brave that.

Another Diana musical, a completely Dutch production, has started playing in Amsterdam. I saw a blurb about this musical on the news last week, and I thought ”No! Not a melodramatic, sanctifying Diana musical in Dutch!” Then my younger sister called early this week (the one I used to fangirl Diana with at age 11), saying she had two free tickets to the musical for the next evening. She got them through her partner who has some ties in the Dutch musical world. They had already seen it together and had loved it and had cried and she thought I might want to see it as well and I could take our mother along with me. A little side note: my sister and I don’t always cry at the same things. Anyway, I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my expectation for this Diana musical was extremely low and I was never ever intending to go see it. Her sweet generosity in offering me free tickets and her enthusiam and my husband’s encouragement to use the experience (bad or good) for input in a blog post, combined with my general interest in Diana, made me decide to just give it a try anyhow. My mother, who had the same trepidations as I did, indeed came with me.

The musical, Diana en Zonen (translates to Diana and sons) is still in its tryout phase (official premiere this coming weekend). The musical is about a posthumous Diana (Eek! I know!) to whom Harry still talks and later it is revealed William does as well. She stands by her sons as Meghan Markle appears on the scene and guides them through some difficult choices. The whole musical is set before Harry and Meghan get married.

So, what did I think of this musical? First the things I did not like so much:

  • The songs and music were not really my thing, just the typical kind of dramatic songs you’d expect from a musical (two of them on YouTube here and here, in case you’re interested). Maybe the second song I linked to, sung by Meghan Markle (played by Danique Graanoogst), stood out most but none of them really felt remarkable to me and often even felt a little boring. While I do like some musicals, maybe I am not musical fan enough to appreciate these songs.
  • I wondered, especially in the first half, how this was about the sons – it seemed to be mostly about Harry (played by Freek Bartels) and most of the story was really his point of view. I think the makers of this musical are Harry and Meghan fans.
  • The story is all conjecture. Apart from the obvious (Meghan being vilified on social media), the way especially William (played by Jonathan Demoor) and Kate (played by Liss Walravens) are so against Meghan in those early days just didn’t feel true to me. Maybe it is true, maybe it isn’t, but it felt so gossipy and fake, it really annoyed me.
  • Much was made over Meghan and Harry separating during their courtship because she didn’t want to deal with the magnitude of it all. That felt like a lot of conjecture as well, especially the way that was played up. Did they really separate? I don’t know, of course, but I think it more likely they discussed these things in depth with each other, rather than separate over it.
  • Diana seems less approving of Kate than of Meghan and that is some huge conjecturing as well, as she never even met either woman in real life. And even as a hypothesis from beyond the grave, it feels like a very questionable position.
  • Harry took his shirts and shoes off and put them on again, I don’t know how many times. Don’t get me wrong, he was nice to look at, but I just didn’t get what the point of that gimmick was.
  • There were more gimmicks, like Harry and an urn and paper confetti being thrown out and put back in again. I guess it signified picking up the pieces again? The urn thing happened several times during the musical.
  • There was this Harry fangirl part that felt completely superfluous to me, like someone thought it should be in there somewhere but apart from the comical element for five minutes, it didn’t do anything for the story.
  • Camilla (played by Gerrie van der Klei) was the comical element which somehow felt out of place in the first half of the musical and Charles (played by Jan Elbertse) was such an over-privileged sap, not daring to talk to Harry and leaving William to do the dirty work and not really standing up for anything. He may not be the most inspiring person but I don’t see Charles as being like that.

Surprisingly, though, it wasn’t all bad to me. The good things:

  • To my great surprise, I actually liked the posthumous Diana (played by Marlijn Weerdenburg). She’s a slightly older Diana, having learnt from her life. She wasn’t sanctified, she seemed reflective and wiser and more forgiving of Charles and even at the end finds respect for Camilla after being snide about her earlier. She owned her errors of judgement in marrying Charles and gives her sons (especially Harry) advice on fighting for what they care for. I thought she really looked the part too, with her hair styled right and that elegant white suit she wore throughout. You recognize her instantly and yet she is not the same. I also liked that there wasn’t any real shyness in her body language, she was a woman who now knows herself and acts self-assured and even a little repentive.
  • I liked Meghan, who is shown as strong, a woman with her own life and her own independent mind, finding it difficult to submit to the chains a royal life would put on her.
  • They also showed the older and wiser Charles and Diana looking at the younger versions of themselves during their own enagement, I think that may have been the most touching part of the whole musical for me.
  • And, in the second half of the musical, Camilla became more than just a comical side note and I got to like her after all, especially in her advice to Meghan, telling her to bide her time, saying that in time vilification will ease. She speaks from experience. She is also a good antidote to the somewhat morose Charles and peps him up.
  • Harry was somehwat melodramatic to me but there is this one scene where he gets so angry at his mother, angrily crying out to her that he and his brother can never break free from her shadow and that really rang so true to me. It is difficult for them to find their places without constantly being compared to or linked to their mother. I think pretty much everyone still does that.
  • In one of the few scenes of Diana and William alone he accuses his mother of treating Harry as the favourite and she guiltily admits that although she loves them both equally, she protected Harry more because William ”had his father”. ”Did I?” William asks. I would have liked to have seen more of that Diana and William dynamic.
  • Kate and William were more one-dimensional but I did like that they addressed Kate and her somewhat boring image that she doesn’t seem to be able to break away from. She has been completely usurped into the royal role, and accepts it all but sometimes there’s a little rebellion, even in her, when she tries to show more of herself and tries to break free from Meghan overshadowing her.
  • All in all, the second half was better than the first half of the musical.

In the end, I thought this might have worked better as a play than as a musical. I would have liked to have seen more of William with his mother and maybe more of an honest portrayal of Charles, it didn’t feel so honest here (except for a few small moments). I liked the element of looking back on a famous life and figuring out what people might have learned and taken away from that. In short, there were some interesting thoughts in this production that might have been explored better in a good character play.

I don’t know any of these Dutch actors (I’m not up to speed with Dutch TV, movies and theatre, they normally don’t hold that much attraction for me) but Marlijn Weerdenburg as Diana did stand out. Maybe I liked her so much because she wasn’t exactly trying to be the Diana we all know, but more of an evolved version? I also liked Danique Graanoogst as Meghan and in the end even Gerrie van der Klei as Camilla as well. The acting was fine but the story overall (despite a few interesing elements) and the music were very iffy. I left with very mixed feelings. I’d rate it 2.5 out of 5 stars, maybe? Not something I’d really need to see again but not as terrible as I feared.

On to the next Diana adaptation. Will there ever be a really good one?

On the stairs

Guylty shared a video clip on her blog of Richard Armitage filming Stay Close. In that video there was this short little scene of Richard running down some stairs which immediately reminded me of a movie scene from 10 Things I Hate About You. I made a gif of Richard’s running scene (no spoilers) and slowed it down a little…

10 Things I Hate About You is a great little movie from 1999 starring Julia Stiles and Heath Ledger, it’s a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, set in an American high school. At one point Ledger serenades Stiles from the stairs overlooking the sports fields, which is just such a fun and lovely scene and it’s what I thought of when I saw Richard in the snippet above…

That in turn made me think of other dancing on the stairs scenes in movies, such as this iconic one of the Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) dancing on the stairs. I’ve yet to see the movie but have admired this scene already several times…

It also reminds me of Rocky running up the steps while training. I never liked Rocky, but the scene is quite nice,

I think of a few indoor dances on stairs scenes as well, like this one of James Cagney dancing down some stairs in a fictional White House…

If Richard wants to do some musical theatre, he could study the legendary Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson and his stair dance that he taught Shirley Temple in 1935.

Or from 2 minutes 30 in this video where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance ‘The Continental’ on the stairs…

I doubt that Richard’s snippet of running down the stairs will become as iconic as these scenes I have just mentioned but it’s fun how such a little Armitage snippet can lead to such nice free associations.

Marry Me – 7 fantasy husbands

Nell participated in a challenge on her blog to name 7 fictional characters that she would marry on the spot (this is originally a challenge from another German blogger). I’m always one to fantasize, so I figured I’d just jump in and join the challenge as well.

The rule is that it’s all about the character and not about the actor who portrays him (all men, in my case). I know actors of course do influence my choice because favourite characters lead to favourite actors for me and vice versa. So, actors can not be completely ignored and characters played by my favourite actors are naturally on this list. 🙂

OK, on to the challenge: which 7 fictional characters am I so in love with that I could marry them?

1. I just had to pick a character portrayed by Richard Armitage and I considered Harry Kennedy from The Vicar of Dibley because he just feels so familiar, like I could know him in real life, or John Porter from Strike Back, a tough guy who can think for himself, but in the end I would just go for John Thornton. Ah, the way he and I could change the world together! And he sure can kiss…

2. Nell mentioned Joe Bradley, the reporter in Roman Holiday (as portrayed by Gregory Peck) and I thought I’d pick him too but then I thought of a few other characters Peck played who I wouldn’t mind marrying either. James McKay in The Big Country springs to mind, the quiet Easterner in the Wild West who has such moral fibre and is made of sterner stuff than most people think, and of course Atticus Finch who, in a way, reminds me a bit of my own father. I’ll just go with the Oedipus complex choice and pick Atticus Finch from To Kill A Mockingbird. He’d be a good daddy to my children too.

3. Prince Edward (Richard Chamberlain) in the Cinderella movie The Slipper and the Rose because he was the first character that touched my romantic childhood heart.

4. Patrick Jane (Simon Baker) from The Mentalist because life would never be boring with him around and you know how deeply he can love once he lets you in.

5. Amenadiel (D.B. Woodside) from Lucifer because who wouldn’t want a fierce looking but soft hearted angel at your side to fight for you?

6. Mark Darcy from Bridget Jones’s Diary. Yes, he’s uptight, but underneath all of that… woof! And he’s smart too, changing the world one high profile human rights law case at a time.

7. Captain Frederick Wentworth (embodied most perfectly by Ciaran Hinds) from Persuasion, a self-made man with a faithful heart and I would get to travel the world with him aboard his ship.

Compiling this list, I chose the characters that popped up in my mind quickest and another one of them was John Keating (so brilliantly portrayed by Robin Williams) from Dead Poets Society, so he gets an honourable mention.

I know that makes it technically eight men I would marry and if I think a little longer I could probably think of 10 more (ooh, maybe hotshot lawyer Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) from Suits or honourable FBI agent Jack Hudson (Yannick Bisson) from Sue Thomas F.B.Eye or even Charles Ingalls (Michael Landon) from Little House on the Prairie) but I’ll just leave it at this.

Persuasion adaptations

Jane Austen’s Persuasion is one of my favourite books. It’s a toss up for me whether I like Pride & Prejudice or Persuasion more. In 1995 there was a near perfect Persuasion adaptation made by the BBC, starring Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciaran Hinds as Captain Frederick Wentworth.

I can’t tell you how often I have watched this version of Persuasion, I just love it. I also love how into the ending they also incorporated a little bit of the ending Jane Austen had orginially written before she changed it to the current ending (which is much better and contains that beautiful letter). If you’ve seen this adaptation, it’s the scene near the end where Captain Wentworth comes to speak to Anne in the name of his Admiral Croft and asks painfully whether Anne is indeed to marry her cousin Mr. Elliot. They are interrupted and she can never answer but that little scene is so nicely incorporated into the plot. I could go on about this adaptaion for ages, but I won’t right now.

In 2007 ITV made another adaptation with Sally Hawkins as Anne and Rupert Penry-Jones as Frederick.

While the main actors were lovely, some of the supporting cast was not (most notably the one who played Anne’s sister Mary) and they gave some good quotes out of sequence to other characters (why?). Also, what was up with the mad dash Anne did at the end through Bath? Despite it’s deficiencies I have gone back to this adaptation now and again and I like it well enough.

I even got my hands on a 1971 miniseries of Persuasion starring Ann Firbank as Anne and Bryan Marshall as Frederick.

Ann Firbank, by the way, was also with Richard Armitage in The Crucible.

That Persuasion version I only saw once, it was quite close to the book if I recall correctly but also slow moving and a little too serene. I did like Firbank and Marshall in their roles, though, with the right amount of unease and awkwardness and long silent looks.

There is also a 1960 miniseries, but according to Wikipedia that version is most likely lost. Seeing how popular Emma or Pride and Prejudice are, there haven’t been quite as many Persuasion adaptations but it looks like that is changing.

There is a new Persuasion movie in the making, starring Sarah Snook and Joel Fry. I’ve never heard of Sarah Snook before but I do ‘know’ Joel Fry from his supporting role in the fun movie Yesterday. The actors do look interesting, I hope they’ll be good and that the story/movie will be good as well.

There’s also a Netflix Persuasion movie in the making, starring Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot. Apparently it’s a modern retelling of the story and just yesterday I read that it will also star Henry Golding as Anne’s cousin Mr. Elliot. Gotta say I could see him in the role of Frederick as well. I really like Henry Golding.

No mention yet on who will play Frederick, so I am very curious to find that out. I’m also feeling a bit iffy about this project. Will it be any good? I’m neutral on Dakota Johnson but not so neutral on modern setting remakes. I’ve seen a few and many are not so great. Most notably, in the recent two or three years, Hallmark has been making some modern setting Austen movies that are loosely based on Jane Austen’s novels (though no Persuasion as yet) and they are all terrible. Sometimes I only recognize the names, the characters just aren’t there and the stories are so bare bone Austen, you could hardly call them Austen either.

Yesterday I watched another modern Austen adaptation made last year, this time a Persuasion one which is not Hallmark, but not far off that mark either. It’s called Modern Persuasion (uninspired title) and nope, that movie really wasn’t it. It tried a little too hard to be witty (although some jokes did make me smile). The story was there, the characters sort of as well but I have no idea why it was necessary to change the names so much. Anne Elliot (played by Alicia Witt) was called Wren Cosgrove and Frederick Wentworth (played by Shane McRae) was called Owen Jasper (really, how is that an improvement?). Witt was alright, even if a little too pouty, but McRae sadly had no Wentworth charisma whatsover, he looked uncomfortable in the role.

I have a feeling that the man who played the Captain Benwick character (actor Dominic Rains), named Sam Benson here, would have made a much better Captain Wentworth or Owen Jasper as he was called here.

I found most of this movie to be awkward, I hope the modern Netflix version that is being filmed will be much better than this.

There are a few good modern adaptations of Austen novels out there. I quite loved the Bollywood meets Hollywood Bride and Prejudice, I loved Bridget Jones’s Diary, I loved the YouTube webseries The Lizzie Bennett Diaries and Clueless is a pretty good modern Emma adaptation. Heck, I even (very surprisingly) enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies that, despite being a costume drama, is very modern with the zombies added in. I so hope the new Persuasion set in modern times adaptation can fit in with those and won’t be like the Hallmark ones or the Modern Persuasion movie I just saw. The more traditional Persuasion that is being filmed has big shoes to fill and I have slightly higher hopes for that one. In any case, I am quite happy these adaptations are coming and I’m looking forward to seeing them.

King’s Day in quarantine again

It’s King’s Day here in The Netherlands today where we celebrate the king’s birthday (he’s 54 today). Normally the country errupts into one big orange festival but we’re still in Corona crisis quarantine lockdown, so it’s all low-key yet again. Last year we already spent an even more low-key King’s Day in lockdown at home. Quarantine isn’t as strict and as new as it was last year so this year we opted for a little more mobility.

Junior was picked up by three friends at the end of the morning and they spent the day having their own little party amongst themselves and walking in a nature area where they saw this…

Meanwhile at home mini me had some studying to do for exams tomorrow and I had some homework to do for my Stephen Macht drama masterclass that I hadn’t gotten around to earlier. I first watched a bit of our royal family on TV visiting the city of Eindhoven in the south for a socially distanced birthday celebration where they participated in a socially distanced talk show setting and played a virtual quiz game. It was good that I could fastforward a lot of it (hadn’t watched live from the beginning) as it wasn’t that interesting but I did get a bit of an impression.

I then turned to my homework, watching the drama Tender Mercies from 1983, a movie I hadn’t really heard of before, despite the movie earning an Oscar for best script and for best actor Robert Duvall. Thankfully, it really was a good movie…

Afterwards Mr Esther, mini me and I decided to drive to Den Haag and take a walk around there. Some cities were apparently very busy and people were asked to leave according to the news but Den Haag wasn’t bad at all. The sun was out, we got some fish to eat at a fish stand, the trams even had little Dutch and orange flags and it was at least a little bit festive as we walked around for maybe an hour and a half…

When we got home again, Junior was back and sitting in the sun in our front garden (yes, we have the flag out for the occasion, a thing Mr Esther always likes to do) with the cats around as well…

At 7 pm I had my third Stephen Macht drama masterclass which was again interesting (a longer post will follow at some later time). I do notice in the background that he has what looks like Billy bookshelves from Ikea (we have the same but in a lighter wood colour and in white).

After a late dinner the family reunited in the living room again to watch soccer on TV (Madrid versus Chelsea in the Champions League).

The day ended with some gazing at the beautiful full moon. Couldn’t get a good picture yet as it is still quite low and obscured by trees but I got a little something…

I hope next year we can have a real King’s Day with the country turning into an orange street party again with open air junk sales, music in the streets and cafés and restaurants open again to all the celebrating people. I hoped the same last year and look where that got me. Still, a woman can wish, can’t she?