Twenty years later, there may be no way to avoid getting melodramatic over the death of Princess Diana.
You just wish there were a way to get a little less melodramatic than ABC’s Martin Bashir gets in The Last 100 Days of Diana, airing Sunday at 9 p.m. ET.
Diana anniversary specials are both appropriate and commercially smart. Her memory still melts hearts all over the world, which explains why NBC, ABC and CBS are all running primetime specials more than three months before Aug. 31, the actual date she died from injuries in a Paris car crash. Other networks will follow later, including HBO.
NBC did a Dateline Friday night that drew 4.7 million viewers. CBS plans a Gayle King-hosted special on May 22. And ABC is counting on old reliable Bashir to pack ‘em in on Sunday.
Bashir is a catch because he has history with Diana. He conducted one of her best-known and controversial interviews just a few months before she died – the one in which she called out her husband Prince Charles’s mistress Camilla Parker-Bowles.
“There were three of us in this marriage,” she said while discussing why it broke down. “So it was a bit crowded.”
If Diana herself helped set the bar for melodrama with that sort of remark, Bashir is only too happy to raise it.
In 100 Days, noting that Diana was busy the summer she died, Bashir intones, “It was as though she knew how little time she had left.”
Happily, 100 Days is not just some sloppy string of tabloid clichés. Its executive producers include Terence Wrong, creator of several first-rate real-life medical shows.
The show, including Bashir, generally tracks those last 100 days in a calm, systematic manner, often emphasizing the intense media pressure that had dominated and in many ways shaped Diana’s life since her marriage to Charles.
No one seems to have found anything especially new to say. So 100 Days spends a good deal of time on the plausible albeit familiar argument that Diana hadn’t necessarily fallen for Dodi Al-Fayed, who was killed along with her in that car crash. Rather, 100 Days seems to buy into the alternate theory that she still carried a torch for her previous boyfriend, Dr. Hasnat Khan.
Keeping that kind of speculation from playing as simple posthumous tabloid gossip is tricky, and this special handles it decently most of the time.
After we learn that Khan had been trying to reach Diana on the phone the night she died – a poignant but rather modest factoid – Bashir tells us that while we’ll never know what would have been said during that conversation, perhaps Khan would have said the words that would have brought her back home to his arms.
Okay, it’s possible. It’s also possible he would have said she left a toothbrush at his place.
To reiterate, those who love Diana can watch 100 Days, remember her fondly and reinforce some of the charming reasons why they do.
So maybe it’s no big deal when Bashir relates how Diana joined a flock of other celebrities at Gianni Versace’s funeral earlier that summer and adds, “How could she know that the next time they all gathered, it would be for hers?”