‘Diana’: CNN Docuseries Applies a ‘21st-Century Lens’ to the Princess’ Story

Princess Diana
Tim Graham Photo Library via Getty Images

Nearly 25 years after her death, she remains the Queen of Hearts. But even now, we continue to learn more about Diana Spencer — and her fortitude. A new six-part CNN docuseries, Diana, probes how a country girl from the east of England grew up to wed a prince and become a role model for generations to come.

Going in, exec producer Matt Robins wanted to avoid depicting Diana as a tragic figure. “Because she died young, we tend to put that tag onto her,” he says. “She was born into a privileged life full of joys. Emotionally she goes through some incredibly tough times, but what we try to do that’s different is to apply a 21st-century lens.”

People who knew the icon, such as biographer Andrew Morton, share their perspectives, but Robins also enlists a wide range of journalists and royal experts to bring “a fresh and modern context.”

As nearly everyone knows, Diana’s 1981 wedding to Prince Charles — she was just 20; he was 32 — was hardly the beginning of a fairy tale. One astounding Episode 1 anecdote reveals that Charles proposed because he had misinterpreted a letter from his father, Prince Philip, saying he should marry her or let her go before he damaged her reputation. The strictures of the monarchy had already come into play.

Despite that and near-suffocating press scrutiny, Diana used her fame to lend attention to important, sometimes unpopular causes. “She was one of the first to be out there and say, ‘I will go meet people dying from AIDS in hospitals and I’ll do it with cameras present,’” Robins says. Her simple 1987 gesture, shaking the hand of a London AIDS patient without gloves, changed attitudes toward people with HIV.

Diana’s celebrity grew after her marriage ended. Among her causes, she spotlighted mental health — considered taboo for royalty — opening up about her own struggles with bulimia. Robins notes that her sons, Harry and William, “have clearly been influenced by her willingness to be public on those issues.” Indeed, in a March sit-down with Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry and wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, shared confidences about feeling trapped by royal life and going to dark places in their minds.

“We live in an era where people are encouraged to speak their truth,” Robins says. In Diana, “you have somebody who went up against one of the most powerful institutions on the planet on her own terms at a time when that just wasn’t allowed.”

Diana, Series Premiere, Sunday, October 10, 9/8c, CNN