Certain towering public figures have had their stories told numerous times in movies, TV and theater.
Such is what tends to happen when a person leads a life of great import, someone who changed history, who is complex or, at times, downright inscrutable. Princess Diana, who died when she was only 36, checked all of those boxes. She's been played by more than a dozen people, mostly in productions centered around her (though sometimes as a supporting player) and always meant to be a target of rapt fascination.
Emma Corrin is onscreen now—wherever Netflix is streaming near you—as the late Princess of Wales in the fourth season of The Crown. And Kristen Stewart is on deck.
"Diana is such a powerful icon, where millions and millions of people, not just women, but many people around the world felt empathy toward her in her life," Pablo Larraín, who's directing Stewart in the upcoming Spencer, told Deadline last June when the project was announced. "We decided to get into a story about identity, and around how a woman decides somehow, not to be the queen. She's a woman who, in the journey of the movie, decides and realizes that she wants to be the woman she was before she met Charles."
The filmmaker continued, "We believe that this is a movie that could create interest around the planet. This is a beloved, iconic women and we have everything in front of us to do a beautiful movie and we are working very hard to get it made."
Calling Stewart "one of the great actors around today," Lorrain acknowledged, "To do this well, you need something very important in film, which is mystery. Kristen can be many things, and she can be very mysterious and very fragile and ultimately very strong as well, which is what we need. The combination of those elements made me think of her."
Meanwhile, Corrin's portrayal of Diana earned a mix of reactions, as expected.
Not because of her acting skills, mind you, but rather because playing such an enigmatic, beloved, sometimes polarizing and ultimately tragic figure who people have had decades to form an image of in their heads is endlessly tricky and The Crown famously has to improvise when it purports to show the royals as they were behind closed doors.
"It's a difficult one," Corrin said on Tamron Hall in November about the inevitable backlash. "I think for everyone in The Crown, we always try and remind everyone that the series that we're in is fictionalized, to a great extent. Obviously, it has its roots in reality and in some fact, but Peter Morgan's scripts are works of fiction."
So much so, according to U.K. Secretary of Culture Oliver Dowden, that he thinks producers of the Emmy-winning drama series should include disclaimers that clearly say as much. But season four, which brings Prince Charles and Princess Diana's tumultuous marriage into the mix, had royal watchers more up in arms than in seasons past.
Talking to the BBC, the queen's former press secretary Dickie Arbiter called it "a hatchet job on Prince Charles and a bit of a hatchet job on Diana. You have to ask, is it necessary?"
Pose that question to millions of loyal Crown viewers, however, and the resounding answer would be yes. It's a daunting job, but the fact that Corrin are Stewart are just two in a long, still-growing line of actresses willing to take on the challenge is all the proof you need that since there was no one, definitive version of Diana in life, there is always another angle to examine.
Here is everyone who's embraced the role over the years:
At least there will always be a place for a closer look at Princess Diana. "You would be amazed at how many people have no clue about this story," Erin Davie, who plays Camilla Parker-Bowles in the musical Diana, remarked to Theater Mania last February. "I cannot tell you how many times I've told somebody 'I'm working on the Princess Diana musical' and they go, 'Yeah, who was she again?'"
If there's anything that the litany of Diana-inspired productions have proven so far, it's that there is always more to this story.
(Originally published July 1, 2020, at 12 a.m. PT)