Just when you thought you knew everything about Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage, along comes a documentary that takes a microscope to the couple’s Australian tour of 1983 in order to shed new light on how that trip affected their marriage. But does Hulu’s Charles & Diana: 1983 offer anything information we don’t already know?
Opening Shot: “1983 was absolutely the height of Diana-mania,” magazine editor Ingrid Seward says over a montage of Charles and Diana’s public appearances. Thousands of people flocked to see the couple any time they ventured out, and the people’s Princess, Diana, greeted them all warmly. It was famously reported that during their Australian tour, Charles and Diana would walk down the street, he greeting fans on one side, she on the other, and the side that she was not on would boo Charles, upset that they weren’t getting their preferred royal.
A moment later, we see footage of one of Charles’s famously self-deprecating speeches in which he references that phenomenon, saying, “I’ve come to the conclusion that really it would have been far easier to have had two wives to have covered both sides of the street.” The audience laughs, but we history has told us that there’s a bitterness beneath his jokes. 1983 was two years into the marriage, and a pivotal moment in one of the world’s most famously tumultuous relationships.
The Gist: Charles and Diana: 1983 is a detailed look at one of the most critical years of the royal coupling that captivated the world. More specifically, it takes a look at their famous tour of Australia, which also happened to be the first royal tour where a child, Prince William, was present, causing even more fervor as millions of Australians would show up to public appearances eager to see mother and child. (Father not so much.)
Through newsreel footage and interviews with Ingrid Seward, the Editor-In-Chief of Majesty Magazine and Paul Burrell, a royal butler, we hear even more stories and see more candid expressions of strife and emotional turmoil between the couple leading, many years down the road, to their divorce, allowing for Charles to finally be with his true love, Camilla Parker Bowles. The doc is relatively Camilla-free until the last 15 minutes or so, save for one anecdote in which Burrell recounts a conversation with Diana, where she tells him to look closely at the footage of her walking down the aisle at her wedding. Her eyes dart from left to right, according to Burrell, in an effort to spot her nemesis Camilla in the crowd.
Though information like that feels a little tabloid-y, it fits right in with the way we want our royal information disseminated to us, doesn’t it? We rely of people like Burrell to dishonor their non-disclosure agreements in order for us to get into the minds of those who are most closed off. We can take Burrell’s word for it, and while we will never know if it’s actually true, it makes for a great story. 1983 provides its share of footnotes like that, which shed new light on a story we thought we already knew inside and out.
What Shows Will It Remind You Of? There are so many shows that have covered this territory, The Crown does a great job of depicting this year in their lives, and the documentary Diana: In Her Own Words also offers anecdotes from this time specifically from Diana’s perspective.
Our Take: The Crown provided viewers with a sense of ownership over the relationship of Charles and Diana this year. Emma Corrin’s Golden Globe-winning performance as Princess Diana was incredible, and it’s fair to say that season four of the show created a massive resurgence in interest for the royals, especially this 1980s era. Couple that with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s abdication of their royal roles, Prince Andrew’s vile associations with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein, and it’s clear that the public’s interests in the cracks beneath the royal facade have reached peak levels this year.
Charles & Diana: 1983 doesn’t necessarily seek to capitalize on that, but the fact of the matter is, Charles and Diana’s marriage was a huge crack in the facade, and no matter how hard they tried to make a good impression on the public, the details of Charles’s misdeeds with Camilla and Diana’s explosive interviews toward the end of her life were soap opera-level drama. 1983 simply shows the real footage of that time so that the viewer can scrutinize it and fill in some details from that time for ourselves. Were those self-deprecating speeches Charles gave a subtle dig at Diana? Are those shy Diana glances actually side-eye at her husband? In hindsight, we can see things better for what they are, and through real footage, we can understand that theirs was not a loving relationship.
1983 looks at this moment in time on an almost macro level, with so much footage speaking for itself. A casual audience may grow tired of this kind of rehashing, but if you love all things royal, this itemized catalog of all the ways this year marked the beginning of the end will offer a few new details.
Sex and Skin: None.
Parting Shot: The film ends with the news reporting Diana’s death and a fast-paced montage of her years in the spotlight and the years flying past, ultimately landing on one of the most memorable moments of her time as Princess, as she and Charles famously danced in Australia, she in that iconic blue ruffled dress. They enchanted the crowd at a ball in Sydney that night, and while the public ate up the performance, it’s very clear that Diana’s every step was being dominated and led by Charles. She knew she had to put on a show, but she was not in control.
Sleeper Star: Paul Burrell, who was a butler in the British Royal Household for two decades and specifically, he was Diana’s butler after she wed Charles. Burrell was indeed close to Diana, a proverbial fly on the wall of Kensington Palace, and is able to share some juicy intel into her life behind castle walls, though the royals have often denounced him for betraying Diana’s confidences.
Most Pilot-y Line: A newsreel from the couple’s trip plays, and Diana shakes hands and collects flowers from her many admirers in New Zealand. The reporter narrates, “The Prince realizes now that he’s taking second place, and doesn’t mind. He knows it’s the Princess people have come to see.” Of course, he did mind, but the fact remains that it was indeed the Princess that everyone was there for.
Our Call: SKIP IT, if you’ve already watched other royal documentaries or The Crown, which covered this era in detail. BUT If you’re an Anglophile or a Royal Watcher, this contains much more extensive footage from the couple’s royal tour of Australia and New Zealand than you’ll see in other docs, and digs deeper into the discomfort Diana felt in the spotlight, Charles’s resentment toward her, and the quickly unraveling threads in the fabric of their relationship.
Liz Kocan is a pop culture writer living in Brooklyn. Her biggest claim to fame is the time she won on the game show Chain Reaction.