Playing Princess Diana: actresses tried to capture her accent, shyness and vulnerability

Several of those cast as the princess admitted the role was daunting

The Crown S4. Picture shows: Diana Princess of Wales (EMMA CORRIN). Filming Location: Military Hostel Front, Malaga
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For any budding young actress, the chance to play Princess Diana in a movie, TV series or theatre production is a dream come true and a major career boost.

But with the privilege has come the huge responsibility of accurately portraying the ill-fated royal to the public who followed her every move.

A quarter of a century on from her death, Diana’s life in the royal bubble and her years thereafter continue to fascinate, which is reflected in the constant stream of productions exploring her through fiction.

Most recently, royal fans have been gripped by the hit Netflix series The Crown, with season five set to hit screens in November.

Who are the actresses who have played Princess Diana?

Catherine Oxenberg played Diana in The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana. Getty/AP

Catherine Oxenberg was among the first actresses to play Diana while she was still living.

She starred in two made-for-television dramas: the 1982 biopic The Royal Romance of Charles and Diana, released a year after the future king married his young bride, and 1992's Charles and Diana: Unhappily Ever After, about the collapse of their marriage.

Actress Serena Scott Thomas played Princess Diana in a TV drama based on a royal biography. Getty

Serena Scott Thomas, the younger sister of Kristin Scott Thomas, also played Diana while she was still alive, starring in Diana: Her True Story, a 1993 TV drama based on Andrew Morton's biography.

Julie Cox, who portrayed Diana in the 1996 Princess In Love television movie, took part in scenes which caused quite a scandal. Critics slated the production, adapted from a bestselling novel, which dramatised rumours of an affair between Diana and Captain James Hewitt.

Before the film was aired, Cox said she was keen not to “offend or insult” the then-future queen.

Julie Cox portrayed Diana in the 1996 'Princess In Love' film. Getty

“You're dealing with someone's private life,” she said in footage released to promote the film. “You hope you're not upsetting someone because we have no way to find out how they feel personally about it.”

Amy Clare Seccombe was cast as the future king’s wife in the drama Diana: A tribute to the People’s Princess, a year after the royal’s tragic death. It was based on the final year of the mother-of-two’s life when her relationship with Dodi Fayed aroused controversy.

Lawyers for the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund fought to stop Mirror Television from making the 1998 movie, claiming it exploited her image, and branded the project “inappropriate and insensitive.”

Ms Seccombe said on location for the film that she hoped to portray Diana as a “very human person.” Amid a wave of criticism, she said she was “not worried that I am going to upset them too badly.”

Amy Clare Seccombe said she was determined to portray Diana as a 'very human person'. Youtube

“If they choose to see this film they are not seeing her, they are seeing my face and that will distance it,” she said, adding, “I think it is much worse to read all the stories that she might have survived and things like that.”

Naomi Watts stepped into her starring role in 2013 when she played the princess in the Oliver Hirschbiegel feature Diana.

She portrayed Diana during the final two years of her life in the film, chronicling her relationships with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan and Mr Fayed.

Ms Watts admitted it was “scary” to play the part of Diana and said she found it difficult to master her “posh” English accent.

“Everyone feels they know her and they thought they had an opinion about who she was and their version of the story must be true and the comparisons that will be made inevitably, so all that was very daunting,” she added.

Naomi Watts admitted she felt nervous about playing the part of Princess Diana. Corbis/Getty

Despite her efforts, critics were less than impressed by the film, which garnered almost entirely negative reviews.

Emma Corrin was unveiled as a young Diana in season four of The Crown.

She noted how the princess had “a very unique voice” which added to her quality.

The Crown S4. Picture shows: Princess Diana (EMMA CORRIN)
The Crown costume designer wanted to create something that wasn’t an exact replica of Lady Diana’s original dress but which captured the same spirit and style of David & Elizabeth Emanuel’s iconic design.  Amy Roberts, our designer, spoke to David Emanuel in depth about the Emanuel’s original sketches and designs. He was fantastically collaborative and helpful to the design team and talked through the detail of many of the original drawings.

“I don't think she is just Sloaney, because I mean, there were million Sloane Rangers at that time and none of them sounded like her,” the actress said. “But she has this thing that she does where she basically goes down at the end of everything she says, which I think added to the fact that kind of quality she had of making her quite a, I guess, empathetic figure, even if she were saying 'I had a wonderful time today, I really did enjoy myself. It's a wonderful day, really happy.”

Jeanna de Waal played Prince Charles’ ex-wife in the Broadway production Diana the Musical.

She said the biggest challenge is that audiences have “such a preconceived idea of who Diana is and within a couple of seconds they're definitely going to decide whether they buy your interpretation or not.”

Jeanna de Waal was cast as Princess Diana in a Broadway production. WireImage

Kristen Stewart's Oscar-nominated performance as Diana in Spencer was launched at the Venice International Film Festival. Released in November 2021, the Pablo Larraín drama imagines the royal family's Christmas festivities at Queen Elizabeth II's Sandringham estate. The film focuses on the expectations placed on Diana, and how she struggled to meet them while longing for freedom.

Stewart said she was “very scared” about the role and suffered jaw pain.

Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana in Spencer. Shoebox Films

Elizabeth Debicki is the latest actress to portray Diana. She is set to be introduced to fans of The Crown as an older Diana when season five is released later this year.

While details of her performance are still under wraps, it can be assumed a far cry from the small screen interpretations aired in the 1980s and '90s as the aspects of Diana's life filmmakers are drawn to have evolved, as well as how actors tackle the role.

Elizabeth Debicki will play Diana in season five of 'The Crown'. AFP
Updated: September 07, 2022, 7:48 AM