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?

My Armitage theatre wall

The other day I blogged about the Uncle Vanya framed collage I had made needing another frame. As I have other things hanging on that wall with black frames, I figured black would be the way to go. So, I bought a new black frame and decided to keep the red background of the old frame for the collage. The end result looks like this…

Not only does this look better than the old, thick, light wooden frame, suddenly everything hanging on that wall pulls together nicely and I now have a complete Richard Armitage theatre wall in our dining area. My mother’s The Crucible painting now replaces a (pretty standard) Audrey Hepburn canvas I had hanging above that window, and the Uncle Vanya collage now hangs on the The Crucible poster’s old spot. I really like my themed wall.

The extra bonus is that the red background in the Uncle Vanya collage actually matches very nicely with the antique old Dutch children’s chair we have standing there. As a child I actually sat in that chair to eat. It is now used to store the cats’ food and is the spot where our black cat eats.

I start work again on Monday and the best thing of my working day will be that I can look at that Richard Armitage theatre wall. 🙂

Dr Astrov screencap spam

After the whole US election certifying crap and mobs breaking into the Capitol in Washington, I needed a little break. TV was switched off this evening and I threw myself into screencapping Richard Armitage in Uncle Vanya. Not too bad a way to self-soothe. I might as well share my screencapping results with you all before I pick some fave images to add to my screensaver. So, here goes, first the beginning of the play with Nana (Anna Calder-Marshall). By the way, for a better look you can click on each of these images to enlarge them…

Then Vanya (Toby Jones) and Sonya (Aimee Lou Wood) join Dr Astrov. I always love Richard’s hand acting..

We get the Astrov, Vanya and Telegin (Peter Wight) drunk scenes at night which are quite funny and a bit sad too…

… followed by Sonya trying to figure out if Astrov returns her romantic feelings.

Then we have the whole Astrov showing his passion for the woods and his maps and flirting with Yelena (Rosalind Eleazar) scene. That’s all quite sexy, the man sure knows how to flirt on stage!

Astrov and Vanya talk things out…

Astrov and Yelena have their last goodbyes…

And then it’s time for Astrov to reluctantly leave as well…

This screen adaptation of Uncle Vanya also had nice impressions of the actors coming into the theatre at the very beginning and these two images of Toby and Richard (who is only seen from behind) were my favourites…

At the very end, after the play had ended, the actors all came on stage to hug each other. I especially loved the Anna and Richard hug. Anna Calder-Marshall was lovely at the stage door when she signed my programme last February and she was gushing about how she loved doing the play and how she loved Toby and Richard in it. The Richard love is quite apparent in these pictures.

Now I got all that out of my system I think I am done with Vanya for a bit. Although, I will never get tired of looking at Richard with long hair and beard, that is just about my fave Richard look.

Fictional crush challenge – day 2

10 days, 10 fictional crushes
Post an image of a fictional character who has been or still is your crush. No names or explanations needed. TV, movie, book, comic, cartoon characters are valid.

When I was 9 years old I had two abridged, youth version books of Charlotte BrontĂ«’s Jane Eyre which I loved. The one had details in the story the other didn’t have so I used to read them both and I read them often. One of the abridged books had drawn illustrations and the other had pictures of the 1973 BBC TV mini series in it. I developed a crush on Mr. Rochester and studied those photos extensively, picturing the character of Rochester with this face. It would be at least another 25 years before I would finally actually see the 1973 adaptation.

I have seen many more Rochesters besides Michael Jayston since I first read the abridged book and later the original version.

Orson Welles, George C. Scott, Timothy Dalton, William Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Toby Stephens, Michael Fassbender, Felix Hayes, Tim Delap. And hmmmm, as I type this the day before it gets posted and look over at the couch to Mr. Esther (who is sporting his ‘corona beard’) he gives me Mr Rochester vibes as well, i.e. the bearded version as portrayed by Hayes and Delap for the National Theatre.

Anyway, each of these Rochesters brought to life by actors had their pros and cons and I don’t have the patience to go into all of that now, it would take too long. Suffice it to say that my fascination with Mr. Rochester, warts and all, remains intact to this day.

#StayAtHome entertainment

All these weeks of staying at home and you’d think it would be boring, but it’s not really, not for me. Yes, I do miss the freedom of coming and going anywhere I please, seeing my family and friends for real, going out to cinemas and restaurants, travelling and experiencing new things. However, for all that I miss, I also have things I am grateful for: I’m with my wonderful husband and kids (seriously, I could never get sick of having them around), I still have work that pays me a regular salary, a roof over my head, a garden I can sit in when the sun shines, I have online and phone contacts with people outside and, as a bit of an introvert, I am also very well able to entertain myself.

I take walks with my husband but sometimes also by myself, with music playing in my headphones as I enjoy the scenery. The other day I took a lovely walk in a little green area about a 7 minute walk away from my house. I was listening to the Yentl soundtrack that I hadn’t listened to in a while. Papa is always an emotional song for me, connected in so many meaningful ways to my own papa…

Anyway, listening to beautiful, relaxing music like that while walking can really lift your spirits, especially when the views are so pretty with nature blooming now in the spring…

Not that many people walk there at the end of the afternoon/beginning of the evening when I tend to take my walks, so it’s a good keeping-your-distance route. I love to see the trees starting to bloom and flowers popping up.

And there is more to entertain me! There are re-reruns on Dutch TV of my absolute favourite show of the end 1980’s / beginning 1990’s, the Australian TV series The Flying Doctors. We’re in the doctor Geoff and nurse Kate heydays right now, so even though I have seen all the episodes and I own them, I also do tune in now and again to see how they’re getting on and where they are in the story. We’re getting close to the big Geoff and Kate rift in season 4 when Geoff’s brother comes to town; that was one of the most exciting times of the whole series, I love seeing those episodes.

There were 9 seasons of that show, the last two seasons or so weren’t as fun, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a special on how they’re doing now, 30 years on.

On Friday evening I enjoyed a broadcast of  a 2011 The Phantom of the Opera 25th anniversary performance on YouTube. By the time I post this, it will almost be going offline, but oh my goodness it was good (and worth a donation)! I didn’t mean to watch the whole thing but I got stuck anyway. Ramin Karimloo plays the Phantom with such feeling and intensity, I became a fan instantly. And Sierra Boggess as Christine is just amazing. I had never heard of them before and they have great chemistry together. Here a clip of them perfoming at the Brit Awards in 2012…

I also loved the celebration bit after the musical ended and, with just small gestures, again Ramin Karimloo made a great impression on me.

And then last night there was another #stayathome highlight for me. For the first time ever I did a three person video chat with two very good friends of mine in the US. We always chat a lot in writing, have done so for 18 years, but until this corona crisis when seemingly everyone has taken to video chatting, we had never thought to do a video chat amongst ourselves before. We’re usually busy and rarely online at the same time but with all of us staying at home now, we figured we should be able to arrange something. So, last night at 9 pm my time and 3 pm their time we finally got together for a video chat and ‘hung out’ for close to two hours, also seeing husbands and a few kids. It was wonderful! The internet and social media really can be so amazing.

Besides all this I have also been going down a Jean Simmons rabbit hole in recent weeks. I had been going through my Richard Chamberlain collection a little while back and saw bits and pieces of The Thorn Birds again where Jean Simmons plays Meggie’s mother, Fee. She is so good in that role!

It made me think of The Big Country with Gregory Peck again, in which she co-stars, and I re-watched that (yup, it’s good movie!). I have always loved her in the role of school teacher Julie Maragon, I always wished for her role to have been bigger.

Looking at her filmography I know I have seen her in a lot of things already over the years, most of the them ages ago, and I have always liked her. Besides the roles I just mentioned I remember her best in Great Expectations from 1946, Black Narcissus from 1947 (excellent movie!), even though those were small roles…

… and of course in Spartacus from 1960. I remember enjoying the film and story but I mostly remember loving Simmons as Varinia. I remember the tension in the Laurence Olivier scenes and the love in the Kirk Douglas scenes.

I have also seen The Robe (1953) with Richard Burton, Young Bess (1953) with her then-husband Stewart Granger and Désiree (1954) with Marlon Brando, all historical costume dramas. I confess to remembering little about them, although Young Bess and Désiree stick in my mind as movies I did like at the time.

I came across a movie called Until They Sail and, when I saw the trailer, remembered I had seen that too. I watched that one again and boy, I really liked it! It’s about four sisters in New Zealand during the Second World War and the relationships they have with Americans stationed there. I loved the understated, almost philosophical scenes between Jean Simmons and Paul Newman…

… and the conclusion between them is just everything. It’s not only about them, though, it’s about four sisters who are very different at handling the same situation. I really liked it, it’s going onto my fave Jean Simmons movies list.

Last night, after that two hour video chat (I’m a night owl), I watched Guys and Dolls from 1955 that Simmons also did with Marlon Brando. I’d never seen that before, apart from bits and pieces. Both are only OK singers but oh my, they have such great chemistry! I loved them together in this movie, like in this clip.

The movie was alright (it apparently also has Frank Sinatra) but really shone and came to life when those two appeared together on screen. It was fun!

Yeah, this Jean Simmons rabbit hole is going deep. I want to re-watch DĂ©siree now to see if the chemistry with Brando was also there in that, and I want to see Young Bess and Spartcaus again. I also need to see Angel Face, a film noir movie with Robert Mitchum in which I think she plays a psychopath; it is said to be one of her absolute best roles.

jean simmon sangel face mitchum

Oh, and she did one with Cary Grant, Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr called The Grass is Greener which I also saw many years ago, need to look into that one again as well.

I’m sure there will be more as I dig on.  I’m loving my journey of Jean Simmons re-discovery.

I feel it is so important to be social and stay at home and yes, I do feel restricted during this corona crisis but I am also lucky that I have enough ways to entertain myself. Thank goodness for the world at our feet on the internet and for a world that is beautiful outside.