'Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy': TV Review

Courtesy of HBO
A moving personal portrait.

Prince William and Prince Harry provide an intimate portrait of the mother they lost at a tragically young age in this HBO doc.

Hard as it is to believe, it's been 20 years since the tragic death of Princess Diana. HBO marks the occasion with this deeply personal documentary featuring candid interviews with her sons, William and Harry, who describe in poignant detail their heartbreak and trauma over having lost their mother at such a young age. The royals may be different from you and me, but as Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy demonstrates, not so much when it comes to simple human emotions.

"This is the first time that the two of us have ever spoken about her as a mother," William declares early in the film. While that might be stretching it a bit, it is true that the two men have never addressed their loss so directly and emotionally on-camera. The latter is particularly true of Harry, only 12 years old when his mother died. Despite the passage of two decades, he speaks with an immediacy that proves painful to listen to.

"She was our mum. She still is our mum. She was the best mum in the world," he says passionately, and viewers who aren't suppressing tears at that point are made of stern stuff indeed.

William is no less moving when he talks about his mother, but his comments tend to feature more doses of humor. He amusingly recalls how his mother once surprised him with an appearance by a trio of supermodels, including Cindy Crawford, when he was just 12 or 13, leaving him utterly tongue-tied. And though he laments that his two young children will never know their grandmother, he jokingly observes that "Granny Diana," as he calls her to his kids, would have been a "nightmare grandmother" because she never would have left them alone.

Both sons attest proudly to their mother's legacy and the positive influence she wielded. Many others do as well, including childhood friends; her brother, Earl Spencer; various people who worked for her, including her royal photographer and lady-in-waiting; and others who witnessed her generosity of spirit firsthand. A doctor who worked at a medical clinic specializing in AIDS patients recalls how her efforts on their behalf, such as having a picture taken of her shaking an AIDS sufferer's hand, were deeply instrumental in changing public opinion. "I'm not a royal person, really. I'm a Republican," he says. "But she was an exception."

Diana also got deeply involved in a campaign to ban land mines. She went to Bosnia to bring publicity to the issue and was filmed speaking to a 15-year-old boy who had lost a limb. Recalling the meeting, the now-grown Bosnian man begins weeping.

Besides talking heads, the documentary includes a wealth of archival footage. While much of it is familiar, there are also previously unseen photographs and home movies of Diana when she was a fresh-faced girl. Her childhood friends describe her as endlessly funny and deeply caring even at a young age.

Considering the participation of William and Harry — their father is conspicuously absent; take from that what you will — it's not surprising that Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy can feel a bit hagiographic. But it also provides a stirring and very personal portrait of a figure who was not just a princess but also a mother, and in Harry's words, "a total kid through and through." Late in the film, the two men each describe the phone call with their mother that they had no idea would be the last. Their lingering sorrow over its quick and casual nature will strike a powerful chord with anyone who's lost a loved one unexpectedly and still regrets the things they never got to say.

Producer-director: Ashley Gething
Executive producer: Nick Kent
Premieres: Monday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (HBO)