Ten years after her death, the Princess of Wales is still the queen of many hearts.
“She is very much a part of our consciousness, one of the biggest icons of our lives,” says Genevieve O’Reilly, who portrays Diana in a new TLC docudrama.
“She lived like a princess and then she died as any normal person could, in a terribly tragic accident.”
The film tells the story of the princess and Dodi Fayed, her romantic companion, during the days before their fatal late-night car crash in a Paris tunnel on Aug. 31, 1997.
“Just being on location in Paris, the mood on the set was quite somber,” O’Reilly says.
The actress says she even became a bit frightened by the stunt drivers playing the paparazzi who chased Diana’s car into the tunnel. “They were weaving in and out of traffic, getting so close to our car taking pictures,” she says. “As an ordinary citizen, I had no idea the intrusion (into Diana’s life) had been that intense.”
For the film, British director Richard Dale interviewed 40 people with ties to Diana, including Mohamed Fayed, Dodi’s father; Kez Wingfield, the Fayed family bodyguard; and Dodi’s therapist. Portions of 30 interviews, as well as footage of Diana and other members of the royal family, are interspersed with the dramatized scenes. The film builds up to, but does not depict, the crash itself.
Dale says he wanted to revisit the Diana story because “this is not just a piece of history, it is one of those few events where you know exactly where you were when you heard about it. We’re still trying to make sense of it all.”
Dale says he chose to dramatize Diana’s actions in her final weeks to play up the personal side of her life. He praises O’Reilly, whose intensive study of Diana’s mannerisms, aided by makeup and wardrobe, resulted in what he called a “vivid, believable portrayal.”
“I didn’t want to cast someone who was just a look-alike,” Dale says. “Genevieve doesn’t look like Diana, but she can act.
She worked constantly on the little idiosyncracies, the voice. I’d look at the video playback (of a scene) and suddenly I’d think I was watching archive footage of Diana herself.”
“Diana: Last Days of a Princess” airs 8 p.m. Sunday on TLC.
More Princess Di programming
Among other upcoming programs recalling the death of Princess Diana on Aug. 31, 1997:
“Diana: Her Last Ten Days in Pictures” (7 p.m. Sunday on TLC): Photos of the princess as she began rebuilding her life.
“CNN: Special Investigations Unit — Growing Up Diana” (8 p.m. Saturday and Aug. 19, CNN): Soledad O’Brien reports on Diana’s early life.
“The Murder of Princess Diana” (9 p.m. Aug. 25, Lifetime): This fictionalized account, starring Jennifer Morrison, suggests the fatal accident was part of a conspiracy.
“Diana’s Last Day” (8 p.m. Aug. 26, E!): This British documentary traces the princess’s final 24 hours, with previously unaired photos and footage. It includes new interviews with French paparazzi who were arrested on suspicion of causing the deaths.