When Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car crash in 1997, the British public was inconsolable. There was an outpouring rather than an expression of grief. Diana’s boyfriend, Dodi Fayed, and driver, Henri Paul, were also killed in the crash but no such similar public sentiment was expressed for their deaths. Mentioned only in their relational roles to Diana, Dodi Fayed and Henri Paul are now mere pawns in a wider public polemic about conspiracy.
Dodi’s father, Mohammad Al-Fayed, always believed British operatives, presumably MI6, carried out a ‘hit’ ordered by the royal family. French authorities dismissed his claims. An English inquest began in 2004 with the hearings commenicing in 2007. Six months later the courts deemed the deaths of Diana and Dodi to be an ‘unlawful killing’ owing to ‘grossly negligent driving of the following vehicles and of the Mercedes. The ‘following vehicles’ referred to in the inquiry by the Royal Courts of Justice did not include members of the paparazzi, as the media reported. Rather, the court deemed them to be an unknown black motorbike and a white Fiat Uno that entered the tunnel with the Mercedes. It is this misrepresented ‘truth’ that Keith Allen hoped to highlight with his documentary, Unlawful Killing (2011). Unfortunately for Allen, the same media managed to condemn Unlawful Killing to the conspiracy theory scrapheap.
The film screened at Cannes – outside of the official selection, but as a part of the Marche du Film (film market). That was already a sticking point for some factions of the media. The Washington Post criticised the film for blurring the distinct lines between these two distinct categories at the festival: ‘It may not be pretty. But every once in a while, celebrity, controversy and canny ballyhoo converge to lure even the sniffiest critics to the market.’ Even before the film screened Allen knew he would have to explain himself. He wrote for the Guardian:
The internet is a global lavatory wall, a Rabelaisian mixture of truth, lies, insanity and humour. I felt its power and madness this week, when an excerpt from my new film, Unlawful Killing, was leaked on to YouTube and seized on by US conspiracy theorists, who immediately began claiming that the CIA had murdered Princess Diana, thereby allowing others to dismiss my documentary as mad … British lawyers insisted on 87 cuts before any U.K. release could be contemplated. So rather than butcher the film, or risk legal action, we’re showing it in France, then the US, and everywhere except the U.K.
Intended as an inquest into the inquest, Unlawful Killing criticises the roles of the monarchy and the media in what it deems a ‘post-crash cover-up’. One of the great advantages for the media institutions it criticises of course is that, as its premiering audience, they essentially received first right of reply. Unsurprisingly the Daily Mail took the opportunity to remind its readers that the six-month inquest ‘cost taxpayers an estimated £12 million’. It also chose to credit Allen as a ‘left-wing activist’ rather than ‘director’ or ‘filmmaker’.
But it wasn’t just the right-wing papers that found Allen unbalanced in his presentation. The Independent was one of many to argue that ‘the film fails to mention its financing link to Fayed’, even though Allen expressed the connection clearly in his article for the Guardian. Perhaps the most curious claim comes from Charles Gant who, writing for Variety, seemed annoyed that Allen should become convinced of Al-Fayed’s claims:
Allen, who presents and narrates, initially adopts an open-minded view of the facts of the matter, but it’s clear that he shares his benefactor’s view that there was a conspiracy and cover-up.
Perhaps Gant is unfamiliar with documentary discourse because, much like journalism, the author of a documentary is not governed by objectivity. That Allen acknowledges his position seems to me an exercise in full disclosure, rather than an intention to deceive the audience.
Fittingly, after the media’s backlash, the documentary was ‘shelved’ in perpetuity, its only screenings since being once in Galway, Ireland, and once in Sydney, Australia. But ‘shelved’ isn’t the same as ‘banned’, even if that is how it’s being reported. It’s easy to speculate that the reason it can’t screen is because it includes treasonous content such as Mohammad Al Fayed burning the coat of arms and royal crest in the presence of Dodi’s mausoleum, or because it calls the royals ‘gangstas in tiaras’ and labels the Duke of Edinburgh ‘a psychopath’, or perhaps because Mohammad Al-Fayed calls the event ‘slaughter by a bloody racist family’. However, the reason has more to do with the legal proceedings than slander. In an interview with Movies.IE, scriptwriter Paul Sparks explains the situation, ‘We have been warned by British lawyers that, unless we make 87 cuts, we will be liable to prosecution for contempt of court if we screen it in the UK.’
That Allen doesn’t want his film to undergo 87 cuts is understandable, but it also means the British public will almost certainly never see it. Entering the international arena as just another piece of a polemic jigsaw puzzle, Unlawful Killing changes nothing. That Scotland Yard are reportedly looking into new evidence is irrelevant and inconsequential, as is an SAS soldier supposedly admitting involvement. Pitting conspiracy against monarchy is fruitless: two extremes aren’t likely to find a middle ground. Unfortunately this means the only film the British public will have an opportunity to see is Hollywood biopic Diana (2013) starring Naomi Watts … cue grief.