"Will someone please save these people from themselves," exhorts Tony Blair, meaning of course the blinking, blinkered Windsors, but the drift of this film is that he could equally well have been referring to the New Labour movement and the celebrity culture it wilfully nurtured.
Alastair Campbell was speaking at our offices a few weeks ago. He claimed that Stephen Frears has admitted to him that almost nobody was willing to provide himself and Peter Morgan with accurate reports of what went on in Westminster and Balmoral in the week after Diana's death, so that in the end they made the whole thing up. Yet some reviewers have pointed to the group of silent aids that are shown behind Blair as he ticks off his press secretary as evidence that certain scenes are more closely based on authentic eye-witness testimony.
I remember that week well. It did feel like the capital had somehow fallen into the hands of 'the people' and that anything would be possible if 'the people' willed it. I also recall watching groups of crestfallen individuals clutching bunches of flowers getting off the Tube at High Street Ken bound for Kensington Palace and thinking thoughts akin to those expressed here by the Duke of Edinburgh: "Sleeping in the streets and pulling out their hair for someone they never knew...and they think we're mad." An odd mix of exhilaration and revulsion. The film captures those mixed emotions extremely well. And it's funny, gripping, charming and in places vaguely disturbing. It captures the would-be republican's dilemma perfectly.
Mark Kermode apparently still thinks it's a TV drama not a feature film proper. It certainly starts off that way, with some rather artificial dialogue, but Mirren and Sheen in particular do somehow manage to lift it up to another level of interest.