9 Adaptations of Princess Diana’s Tragic Life Story

Princess Diana is arguably the most famous woman of the past century. Here are nine ways to learn the story behind her not-so-glamorous life.

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A blonde, unhappy looking woman sits at a candlelit table. Next to her are two images, one a book cover for "The Princess", and one a movie poster in neon for the musical "Diana."

Ever since her tragic death in 1997, Princess Diana’s life story has been told time and time again through books, television shows, and movies. She had a fairy tale wedding that ended in a bitter divorce; she was cheated on and ridiculed, and struggled with her mental health until she met a devastating and unexpected end. Everyone knows her story, but there are a few standout adaptations of her life that you should definitely watch, whether you only know the basic facts or consider yourself a royal family expert.

1. Spencer

A movie poster with a woman in a giant white dress leaned over on the ground, covering her face. The background is entirely black, and it says "Spencer" on the bottom along with the production credits.

This movie explores Diana’s emotional state during Christmas of 1991 when she was still married to Charles and struggling with her mental and physical health. Kristen Stewart gives an excellent portrayal of a woman trying to keep it all together as her world is falling apart in front of her.

2. The Crown

A poster for "The Crown", that has a white woman with short blonde hair looking at the camera. Half her face is cut out, so we can only see the right side. She is wearing something black and chunky gold earrings, and it says "The Crown", "The Final Season", and "Only on Netflix" on the bottom.

I’m sure you know about this one; it’s become extremely popular within the past several years for its portrayal of the British royal family. The sixth season, specifically, has focused on Princess Diana and the months before and the years after her untimely death, focusing both on her mental and emotional state as well as the effects her death had on the rest of the royal family.

3. Diana

A movie poster with a white woman on it, with a short 80's style blonde hair and a blue sparkly dress. She is wearing a necklace with pearls and a large black pendant. In the middle of the poster it says "Naomi Watts" and "Diana" on it.

This 2013 movie somewhat strays from the topics of other popular accounts of Diana’s life. This film focuses mainly on her relationship with Dr. Khan, the heart surgeon she was with from 1995-97. She had been known to refer to Dr. Khan as the love of her life, confirmed by a friend who said that Diana was “madly in love with Hasnat Khan and wanted to marry him, even if that meant living in Pakistan.” So, while the subject of this film differs from the dramatic accounts of the end of her life, you can’t doubt it features a notable and compelling subject.

4. The Princess by Wendy Holden

A book cover with a gray sea in the background, with a woman with short blonde hair and a blue dress running in the foreground. It has the title "The Princess" on it with the author's name "Wendy Holden" on it.

This novel reads like a fanfiction about Princess Diana (which, I guess, describes pretty much every other work of fiction about her). It details Diana’s teenage life and her obsession with romance novels, which apparently led to her marriage with Charles, all told through the eyes of her childhood best friend. It’s praised for its fascinating look at the Diana that the public never got to see.

5. Diana… the Musical?

A dark movie poster with the silhouette of a white blonde woman. It has the sparkling cursive word "Diana" in magenta in the bottom right corner and has a backlight of purple and blue.

Debuting on Netflix in 2021 amidst the COVID pandemic, this musical is another dramatized account of Princess Diana’s life, this time with… dance numbers? The musical didn’t earn a particularly high rating with viewers; one person even described it as being like the time when his dog accidentally ate cooked turkey giblets. Creative, I guess? Another person said it was “a decent way to spend an afternoon,” so I guess you’ll just have to decide for yourself whether it’s worth the watch. No matter what, it’s sure to be entertaining!

6. Whatever Love Means

A movie poster with the words "Whatever Love Means" in the top left, with a man and a woman in fancy 80s clothing standing close together.

This film actually focuses on Charles and Camilla and their relationship, framing Diana as the other woman. It grants the viewer another side to the Charles-Diana-Camilla conflict that might be worth exploring. Also, (not so) fun fact, the title comes from an interview between Charles and Diana after they became engaged. The interviewer asked if the two were in love, to which Diana replied, “Oh, yes!” and Charles replied, “Whatever ‘in love’ means.” Yikes. Not really the answer you want from your new fiancé.

7. Untold Story: A Novel by Monica Ali

A black book cover with the back of a white woman wearing a fancy black dress and a tiara. She is standing on the left, and on the right are a bunch of testimonials about the book as well as the title, "Untold Story." The author's name, Monica Ali, is written at the bottom.

This novel is essentially a piece of historical fiction that explores what would have happened if Princess Diana hadn’t died. It’s kind of like the Marvel show What If…?, if it focused on historical events rather than fictional superhero events.

8. The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana

A black and white photo of a well dressed couple in 80s style clothing looking directly at the camera. The guy has short dark hair and the woman has short light hair.

The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana is a super interesting TV movie about Charles and Diana’s romance, released all the way back in 1982. It might be worth a watch, especially if you view it through the lens of everything that has happened since then. You may even be able to spot some moments foreshadowing their relationship’s eventual demise.

9. Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words

A black and white white book cover with a smiling blonde woman sitting on the left. In the middle, it says "Diana" in large golden lettering, and under that it says "Her True Story - In Her Own Words."

Ending on some non-fiction (sorry, I cheated), this authorized biography was a total bombshell when it came out. Originally released in 1992, around the time of Charles and Diana’s separation, the book exposed aspects of Diana’s private life that shocked the public. It explored her eating disorder, mental health, and a “scathing account” of her crumbling relationship with Charles. Diana and Morton, the author, both denied that Diana had much involvement in the writing and publishing of the book.

A man and a woman pose in the middle of a field, with a stone bridge behind them. The man has a green sweater and a kilt, and short brown hair. The woman has a tweed jacket and skirt on and has short blonde hair.

After Diana’s death, though, the book became even more controversial, as the author scrambled to prove that Diana was more involved in the process than she previously stated. He published a second edition of the book, re-titled Diana: Her True Story – In Her Own Words from Diana: Her True Story. This edition had 18 thousand transcribed words from tapes Diana herself recorded, exposing her innermost thoughts and feelings. Morton has since been accused of exploiting her fame and death for monetary gain, but even if the author’s intentions were less than pure, the book still provides a raw and real account of a woman who has been struggling since her teenage years and deserved so, so much better.

Each of these accounts of Princess Diana gives an insight into her tragic life and just makes you wish you could travel back in time and give her a hug. God knows she deserved it.

Want to know even more about “the people’s princess?” Read our article about Princess Diana’s favorite books!

For more fascinating non-fiction titles, check out our bookshelf.