In 1995, Princess Diana agreed to be interviewed by BBC journalist Martin Bashir for the current affairs show Panorama at her Kensington Palace home. The result, which aired on Nov. 20, shocked viewers as the royal family member discussed her self-harming, her bulimia, and her marriage to Prince Charles, from whom she had separated in 1992. On the latter subject, Diana famously referred to Charles' affair with Camilla Parker Bowles saying, "there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded."
That interview is the focus of episode 7 of the new season of The Crown, with Elizabeth Debicki playing Diana and Prasanna Puwanarajah portraying Bashir. (Puwanarajah also played the journalist in the 2013 movie Diana, with Naomi Watts as the princess.)
Keith Bernstein/Netflix Elizabeth Debicki in season 5 of 'The Crown'
"It's this exploration of very extreme vulnerability within that character, and getting to a point of coming up against an edge, and how do you proceed," says Debicki of the show. "Of course, when you're an actor playing a role, you have immense compassion and love for the person you're playing, and so you come to understand their choices from that perspective, from inside of that mind. I understood, in [creator Peter Morgan's] writing of that, why that came to pass, and why it felt necessary at the time. When I watch that episode it's very moving and [shows] what The Crown has the potential to do: It creates understanding in previously sort of hidden areas of history." Debicki describes her episode costar Puwanarajah as "a great actor, and really instinctive and deeply intelligent, and, and obviously armed with immense research, capable of sort of delving in [to] that role."
Corbis via Getty Images Princess Diana being interviewed by Martin Bashir
The real history of the Panorama interview would only be confirmed years later. In May 2021, an inquiry headed by former Supreme Court Judge John Dyson found that Bashir had acted with duplicity to secure the interview. The journalist had commissioned a graphic designer to make fake documents that purported to show bank transactions between the media company News International and a former security guard employed by Diana's brother Earl Spencer. According to Spencer, the documents were used "to groom me, so that [Bashir] could then get to Diana for the interview he was always secretly after." This extraordinary part of the tale is also detailed by Morgan on The Crown.
"What Peter's managed to do with that episode is bring to light this incredible lead up of events, [with] information recently made available to us, the truth of what that process was in obtaining that interview," says Debicki. "Of course, I'd read the script [but] I recently watched that episode and it was only really in the watching of it that I understood how all the pieces of the puzzle diabolically fitted and created the events that we came to know as that interview."
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Yes, that's ex-007 Timothy Dalton playing Princess Margaret's sweetheart on The Crown