Anyone can make a documentary that serves their own purpose, the real skill is presenting something analytically that explores the facts and encourages the audience to come to their own conclusions. The difficult prospect there of course is that no one really sets out to make a documentary that doesn’t touch controversial ground, so usually either the audience or the filmmaker themself will have some prefigured opinion on the subject that will color their judgement no matter what the doc says.
And to a certain extent, it doesn’t matter what this documentary/expose by Keith Allen (father of Lily and co-creator of hit UK jingoistic single “Vindaloo”) succeeds or fails at because his subject matter is solid gold. Allen takes the opportunity in Unlawful Killing to probe analytically whether there was a cover up during the inquest into the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed, as well as driver Henri Paul in a Paris tunnel in 1997, or at least he claims that as his intention…
As I said to begin with, documentary filmmakers have an agenda. Initially, on the surface Keith Allen appears to be committed to impartiality, a fact that he openly mentions in the introduction, but let’s get this out of the way from the get-go: this is no documentary at all. It is a self-serving film, financed by Mohammed Al-Fayed (clearly not the best start for impartiality), and featuring a collection of suspect witnesses who Allen uses to agree with his own take on the whole conspiracy. Nevertheless, it is a compelling subject, and it is put together well enough to capture the attention, and prolong the debate well after the credits roll and the cinema is exited.
His approach is to trawl through the evidence, interviewing key figures attached to the case, and some commentators from positions of influence, like journalist Lauren Booth (sister of Cherie Blair) in order to supposedly find out what the inquest didn’t uncover, and what the media (in their role as co-conspirators) failed to report on purpose. The thing is that most of the commenters have some vested interest in the case, whether they have written a book on the subject (Noel Botham), or are a friend of either Diana (Simone Simmons) or Dodi (the late great Tony Curtis), or take a political standing that traditionally opposes the monarchy like Mark Steel, the socialist comedian who famously toured a show based on the French revolution, and Stephen Haseler, former co-chair of the Radical Society and Chair of the pressure group Republic until 2006. But the film is definitely impartial, don’t forget.
Even worse, Allen has for some reason invited Piers Fucking Morgan (as he should officially be known) to join in.You know, the former editor of the UK’s Daily Mirror newspaper who was roundly condemned in 2004 for publishing some crude fake photographs allegedly showing Iraqi prisoners being abused by British Army soldiers from the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment and who has also been involved in some dodgy insider trading style shenanigans in his time as well. Impartiality doesn’t even come into this one, maybe next time just go with someone a little more trustworthy.
But then maybe Allen turned to Morgan to continue the humorous feel to proceedings, which includes Mohammed Al-Fayed being interviewed by Howard Stern with an inexplicable waxwork of himself in the background wearing a kilt, and the so-inappropriate-you-can’t-help-but-laugh racist comments attributed to various royals in the past. He is definitely playing to his strengths, using his personality, and brilliantly engaging voice to grip the audience, disarming them with humor and then presenting his version of the facts (not unlike Mr. Michael Moore is prone to doing).
Allen is a very clever man: pre-release, the sometime comedian has made claims that in order to screen in the UK, lawyers have demanded that a princely total of 87 cuts be made, a demand that the filmmaker condemned out of hand, and simply decided not to screen it in the UK. He needn’t really be concerned anyway, since the US will be the biggest market for this incendiary “factual” film, based on the continues ferocity of their Diana conspiracists. What Allen has done here, in conjunction with screening in Cannes, and thus piggy-backing on the authority of the fest, is to give his film a little credence and a lot of anticipation. And thanks to the entertainment factor of the film, and the fact that it will inspire debate even in the most cynical of audience members, that anticipation may well turn into a reasonable reception.
But the filmmaker should definitely cut the bullshit, and just admit his intentions with the film. In a pre-release interview in Cannes, he even suggested that it was “not sensational” – something I’m sure that Prince Phillip would contest, given that he is categorized as a psychopath by celebrity psychologist Oliver James and that the Queen and Princess Anne might refute, since they find themselves being called “gangsters in tiaras.” In the same interview, and in response to some cynicism regarding the bias of the film, Allen did somewhat playfully allude to his leanings, saying that the film is “made from my point of view” and is “what the French call being an auteur,” but as long as he resists admitting he had an agenda (which is plainly obvious to everyone else) he may well look the fool.
The Upside: It’s an entertaining exercise, and an interesting insight into how people still feel about Diana’s death, some 15 years on.
The Downside: No amount of counter claims will convince anyone that this is anything but a biased film. It shouldn’t be counted as definitive, or even particularly authoritative, but by all means feel free to be engaged.
Remember to follow me on Twitter for more on-site observations. You can also check out my other filmic writings at ObsessedWithFilm.com.
Cannes coverage continues…