Who is the best Princess Diana? From Naomi Watts to Elizabeth Debicki
She tragically passed away in 1997 – but the story of Diana, Princess of Wales powerfully still resonates with many.
The late royal’s life was marked by as much scandal as it was praise and incredible charisma – so it’s no wonder that TV executives and moviemakers have attempted to bring her multifaceted story to life on the screen.
Here, FEMAIL takes a look at 11 stars who attempted to recreate the People’s Princess, from Elizabeth Debicki’s ‘uncanny’ performance in The Crown to Kristen Stewart’s more thriller-esque take.
Earlier depictions, such as Naomi Watts’ 2013 role and Michelle Duncan’s 2005 release are also featured.
Elizabeth Debicki (The Crown, 2022)
The 32-year-old’s scene-stealing acting in the latest series of The Crown was described as ‘uncanny’
This Australian actress’s portrayal the late Princess of Wales – during a time of scandal for the Royal Family amid the 90s – has been as controversial as it has been revered.
On the one hand, the 32-year-old’s scene-stealing acting was described as ‘uncanny’.
Royal author Andrew Morton in fact admitted that her eerily spot on performance in The Crown left him ‘shaking’.
The writing of Morton’s infamous biography Diana: Her True Story features heavily in episode two of the latest season of the hit Netflix drama.
The former royal correspondent relied on Diana’s close friend James Colthurst to sneak the Princess’ audio recordings out of Kensington Palace when he was writing the biography.
This arrangement allowed the mother-of-two to deny ever being interviewed face-to-face for the book, which became an instant best-seller when it hit shelves in 1992.
Speaking to the Today Show, the author – who has now penned the biography The Queen: Her Life – opened up about what it was like to see the dramastised events unfold on screen.
Describing his initial reaction to the episode, Andrew explained: ‘I’m not joking, I was shaking watching [the episode] because it was like being taken back 30 years to when I was interviewing her for my book.’
The biographer was full of praise for how Elizabeth for her depiction of the late Princess.
He continued: ‘Her mannerisms, her speech patterns were identical to the late Princess.
‘And for me, having worked so closely with [Diana], it was like seeing a ghost. It really was uncanny.’
However, while the casting has been praised, the choice to entail some of the late Princess’ most harrowing personal storylines has received heavy criticism.
Most recently, Diana’s former chef blasted The Crown’s ‘sick’ decision to show the late royal lying in an open casket coffin in the upcoming release.
Darren McGrady – who worked as a personal chef for members of the Royal Family between 1982 and 1993 – has expressed his disgust over how Netflix is reported to portray Diana’s death.
According to The Sun, the sixth season will show medics covered in blood trying to save Diana – played by Elizabeth – following a car crash in Paris in August 1997.
The episode will also recreate the moment King Charles went to his identify late wife’s body in a French hospital and shows Diana in an open casket.
Kristen Stewart (Spencer, 2021)
Kristen Stewart played the princess in the biopic Spencer – which focused on three days of the late royal’s life in 1991
The Twilight star earned her first Oscar nomination for her role as Princess Diana in the biopic Spencer – which focused on three days of the late royal’s life in 1991 – and earlier this year opened up about the late royal, reflecting on her loneliness.
‘One of the remarkable things is that she was so friendless,’ Kristen told Vanity Fair.
‘I’m constantly going, ‘Where was your f*****g homie?”
The same interview saw the Hollywood star, 32, talking about trying to make herself throw up in order to embody Diana’s bulimia – which she has since received criticism for.
‘I’ll f*****g do anything. I wanted to make sure that was not glossed over,’ Kristen told the outlet.
One scene also shows her character imagining choking on her own necklace and retrieving pearls from soup as the royal family stares at her.
Tom Quinn, director of external affairs at Beat, the UK’s leading eating disorder charity, told the Mirror: ‘Depicting eating disorders on screen can be a brilliant way to raise awareness of these serious mental illnesses, but it’s crucial this is done responsibly.
‘We’d urge the film industry to protect professionals working in this space, for instance by dedicating time and resources to eating disorder training.’
Martha Williams, a clinical advice coordinator, added: ‘Some aspects of the film, we felt, seemed to glamorise the eating disorder.
‘At one point there was an image of Diana wearing a ball gown and slouching over the toilet.’
Jeanna de Waal (Diana: A True Musical Story, 2021)
The rising British stage star who plays the title role – Jeanna De Waal – has in past confided that the hardest part of embodying the late royal was trying not to ‘get lost in that sadness’
Diana: The Musical premiered on Broadway in November 2021, after being delayed by 18 months due to Covid. A filmed version premiered on Netflix in October last year.
It was directed by Tony award-winner Christopher Ashley, and focused on the story of the princess’ marriage to Prince Charles.
It also featured appearances by the Duchess of Cornwall and the late Queen, as well as other key figures in the royal circle.
The rising British stage star who plays the title role – Jeanna De Waal – has in past confided that the hardest part of embodying the late royal was trying not to ‘get lost in that sadness’.
The actress, who previously said it is a ‘huge privilege’ to portray the princess in the musical retelling of her life (which can be streamed on Netflix) also said she thinks Prince Harry and Prince William’s mother would’ve ‘definitely’ enjoyed the show.
Speaking to Elle magazine about the most challenging thing about embodying Princess Diana last year, Jeanna said: ‘I would say it was giving my character a burning intention that’s interesting for an audience to watch, even when she’s going through the phase, for lack of a better word, of a victim.
‘To not really get lost in that sadness.
‘That was a collaboration with the writers, too: How long do we leave her in this place where everything is beating down on her? Her quiet power, how does it ferment? When does it start to show itself?’
The actress, a graduate of the renowned Tring School for Performing Arts and the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts, previously remained relatively unknown despite a handful of roles in high profile musicals including Wicked, Kinky Boots and American Idiot.
However, the production was heavily slammed by critics and ridiculed by viewers – and in February, it was also nominated for nine Razzie Awards, which recognise the biggest film flops of the year, including worst picture, actress and actor.
It was met with scathing reviews and social media verdicts on both sides of the Atlantic.
The Evening Standard, The Times and the Chicago Tribune gave Diana: The Musical damning one-star reviews, while viewers have mocked the ridiculous songs – including a number where paparazzi sing ‘better than a Guinness, better than a w**k/snap a few pics, it’s money in the bank’ – on social media.
The show, created by Joe DiPietro and David Bryan (Bon Jovi’s keyboardist) also starred Roe Hartrampf as Prince Charles, Judy Kaye as the Queen, and Erin Davie who ‘turns Camilla Parker Bowles into the Wicked Witch of the West’.
At one point Diana sings how she ‘wishes Charles was Elton John’ before adding: ‘Alright, I’m no intellect/but maybe there’s a discotheque/where the prince could hear Prince and we’d all get Funkadellic’.
Later, she sings to her infant son: ‘Harry my ginger-haired son / You’ll always be second to none’.
One of the most heavily quoted lyrics comes from a scene in which Diana crashes one of Camilla’s parties and scandalised guests sing about a ‘Thrilla in Manilla with Diana and Camilla’.
As Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson notes, the lyrics are not ‘meant to be silly and campy’, despite how they might read on paper.
‘They are just the stilted, embarrassingly serious ramblings of a show that has no interest in real humanity.’
Emma Corrin (The Crown, 2020)
The actor, 27, depicted the late royal’s first meeting with Charles – played by Josh O’Connor – and brought to life on the turbulent beginnings of their marriage
Much like their Crown successor Elizabeth Debicki – the incredible Emma Corrin, who uses the pronouns they/them, received great praise for their portrayal of young Diana in series four of The Crown.
The actor, 27, depicted the late royal’s first meeting with Charles – played by Josh O’Connor – and brought to life on the turbulent beginnings of their marriage, including Camilla Parker-Bowles’ role in it.
Speaking on a US talk show about the controversial plotline’s release in 2020, the star admitted they ‘understand’ the upset surrounding the pair’s dynamic.
Appearing on the Tamron Hall, Emma was asked for their reaction to reports that the royal family are not happy with the portrayals of Charles and Diana.
‘It’s a difficult one. I think for everyone, on the The Crown, we always try and remind everyone that the series we are in is fictionalised,’ Emma began.
‘Obviously, it has its roots in reality and fact but Peter Morgan’s scripts are works of fiction’, they said referring to the series creator.
Emma cautioned though that ‘at the same time, I understand why people would be upset because this is history. And with Diana it’s still very much fresh.’
‘I suppose, we approach these people that we play as characters which is why its such a joyous job because Peter writes such rich and complex characters.’
The actor later added: ‘Like the rest of the cast, I would kind of would rather not think about it.
‘It’s so tricky because, as you said, there is so much pain still left with everything surrounding Diana.’
More recently, Emma admitted that they believe Princess Diana was ‘queer’ in many ways because she was the ‘other’ in her family – while discussing their gender with The Sunday Times.
Naomi Watts (Diana, 2013)
In 2014, Naomi Watts, 54, spoke out to confirm that she has some regrets about taking on the role
British-Australian star Naomi Watts received mixed reviews for her lead role in the controversial Diana biopic.
In 2014, the actress, 54, spoke out to confirm that she has some regrets about the flick.
The Oscar-nominated star took on the part of the much loved princess in the movie which told the story of her split from Charles and her consequent relationships.
She however told Harper’s Bazaar magazine that she got ‘seduced’ by such a ‘fantastic character’.
‘Diana did a lot of things that had positive and negative results,’ Naomi told the outlet.
‘She was multifaceted. But ultimately there were problems [with the film] and it ended up taking a direction that was not the one I was hoping for.’
The Diana movie, which was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, experienced an unsuccessful run in the box office when it was released in September 2013.
It was further criticised when an advertising poster for the film was erected near the tunnel in Paris, France where Princess Diana and her boyfriend Dodi Fayed lost their lives in a car crash in 1997.
At the time of release, The Daily Mail’s critic Christopher Tookey panned the movie as ‘dire.’
He added: ‘It never succeeds in being moving, or even involving. It’s not even enjoyably bad.’
To add insult to injury, Naomi was nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress for her work as the late Princess.
Genevieve O’Reilly (Diana: Last Days of a Princess, 2007)
Genevieve O’Reilly, who is perhaps best known for her work in the Star Wars franchise as Mon Mothma, portrayed Diana ten years after the her death
This Channel 5 docu-drama starred Irish actress Genevieve O’Reilly, who is perhaps best known for her work in the Star Wars franchise as Mon Mothma, and was released ten years after the Princess’ death.
It certainly fared better than other projects, with a review in The New York Times praising it: ‘It portrays her as needy but manipulative, loving but flawed — in other words, as a human being.
‘Blending documentary techniques and scripted drama, it gives a surprisingly credible picture of the princess’s last summer.’
Viewers also praised the film choice to leave certain events out.
A 2008 review of the DVD on Amazon read: ‘I had originally watched this movie on TV in 2007. Watching it again in my own home brought back memories and contemplation on what happened.
‘This movie combined actors and news footage to show how Diana reached the emotional state she was in at the time of her death.
‘I would recommend it to any Diana fan…Very professionally and thoughtfully done. I highly recommend it.’
Michelle Duncan (Whatever Love Means, 2005)
There were mixed reviews of Michelle’s performance, some calling it a good match, with others slamming it as ‘wooden’
This movie – which also stars Laurence Fox as Charles – focuses on the getting together and fizzling out of Charles and Diana’s relationship, ending on the day of their marriage in 1981.
While the portrayal, often branded as one of the more sympathetic looks into the lives of Camilla Parker-Bowles and the former Prince of Wales, received relatively positive reviews, most of the praise was directed at Fox and Olivia Poulet, who played the now-King and Queen Consort.
There were mixed reviews of Michelle’s performance, some calling it a good match, with others slamming it as ‘wooden’.
One IMDb reviewer wrote that ‘the actress they chose to portray Diana was very convincing in that role…so casting was very good’ as another added that everyone ‘fit the roles that they play’ in the ‘watchable’ film.
However, another penned: ‘The actress playing Diana is a total miscast. All she has is the hairdo, but she cannot convey or channel Diana.
‘For one thing, she is quite wooden, too mature for the part of a starry eyed nineteen year old and the other she is all wrong physically and facially for the part.’
Amy Seccombe (Diana: A Tribute to the People’s Princess, 1998)
This ill-advised Princess Diana tribute was released just a year after her death, and starred little known actress Amy Seccombe for the part
This ill-advised Princess Diana tribute was released just a year after her death, and starred little known actress Amy Seccombe for the part.
The project was largely ignored upon release and thought to be distasteful, while Amy didn’t appear to do much acting work in the aftermath.
The flick has a rating of 3.7/10 stars on IMDb, where it’s slammed with horrified reviews.
‘This was quite simply an insult the memory of Princess Diana. The directing and writing could have been done better by a three year old,’ one disgusted movie fan said.
It was just dire from start to finish. I would rather poke my eyes out with hot sticks than have to sit through this again. Straight to video was it? I know I saw it on a Cable TV network.
‘Please for the sake of our own eyes, never watch this or believe any good reviews.’
Julie Cox (Princess in Love, 1996)
In 1996, the role went to British actress Julie Cox, who was recently seen in the crime drama Broadchurch
Based on James Hewitt’s book, this American TV movie follows the relationship that blossomed himself between Diana and James Hewitt.
The role went to British actress Julie Cox who was recently seen in the crime drama Broadchurch.
However, the title failed to have much impact upon its release.
Serena Scott Thomas (Diana: Her True Story, 1993)
British actress and model Serena Scott Thomas also found some praise for her portrayal in this made-for-TV movie
Based on the publication of the same name by Andrew Morton, British actress and model Serena Scott Thomas also found some praise for her portrayal in this made-for-TV movie.
Entertainment Weekly said Serena showed ‘great charm’ in the role, but said she ‘more closely resembles a softer version of Murphy Brown‘s Faith Ford than she does the angular princess’.
Interestingly, Serena later played Carole Middleton in the 2011 TV movie William & Kate, depicting the courtship between the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Caroline Bliss (Charles And Diana: A Royal Love Story, 1982)
This 1982 American made-for-television biographical drama starred Catherine Oxenberg as Diana, Christopher Baines as Prince Charles, and Hollywood royalty Olivia de Havilland as Queen Elizabeth
This 1982 American made-for-television biographical drama starred Catherine Oxenberg as Diana, Christopher Baines as Prince Charles, and Hollywood royalty Olivia de Havilland as Queen Elizabeth.
It originally aired September 20, 1982 on CBS.
One damning review from The Washington Post called it a piece of ‘slack-jawed heraldic voyeurism incapable of, and apparently uninterested in, transforming remote news figures into believable mortals.’
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