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DIANA

Rediscovering Diana
Ecosse Films was already planning a film on Diana, Princess of Wales -- the alluring young beauty who was wedded to Prince Charles in front of 750 million people, had her marriage break apart in full public view, became a heroine in her own right and suddenly passed away in the prime of her quintessentially modern life -- when they happened across a riveting story.

That story lay at the heart of Kate Snell's book, Diana: Her Last Love, which detailed the surprising arc of Diana's brief but passionate encounter from 1996 to 1997 with the Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. The book detailed all the unseen moments of their romance -- from their fateful first encounter to their shared devotion to helping the world's most invisible people to Diana's romantic strategizing in the days just before the horrific Paris car crash -- and, in so doing, presented a fresh picture of who Diana was becoming at the moment of her untimely death.

Ecosse's producers Robert Bernstein and Douglas Rae were intrigued. They never had in mind an ordinary biopic. And now they had a chance to zero in on perhaps the most vibrant time of Diana's cut-short life: those last two years, post-divorce, as she worked to rebuild her life in a round- the-clock glass bowl, and attempted to carve out her own place in the world.

"It's an important story to tell, I think, because the perception of Diana's life has become overshadowed by how she died -- this story is about how she became herself. And we discovered that journey was tied up in a remarkable love story," producer Robert Bernstein explains. "The confidence she found through her relationship with Hasnat Khan is part of how she became the woman she did at the end of her life, a real force for good."

It was also the one part of Diana's life that most people never saw, despite the unstoppable media coverage that surrounded her, both before and after her death. To explore the idea further on multiple levels, Bernstein and Rae approached the prominent playwright and film writer Stephen Jeffreys.

"We wanted to work with Stephen because he's a fantastic writer of character and he's also a very dexterous writer," Bernstein states.

Jeffreys' interest in turn was immediately lit because he had actually met Diana, when she presented him with a prize at the Evening Standard Drama Awards. She had unexpectedly impressed him. "I realized from talking to her that the standard press portrayal of her as a brainless bimbo was utterly wrong: she was quick, witty and intelligent," he recalls. "That five minute conversation was my lodestar as I wrote the film: I returned to that voice I'd heard when imagining what she would say."

In addition to Kate Snell's book, the filmmakers consulted multiple biographical sources, poured through extensive archives and met with those who knew Diana well. "Kate introduced us to certain people who were close to Diana and we interviewed them in depth, which was extremely helpful," Bernstein explains. "Certainly some of the insights in the film come in part from Kate's journalistic endeavors."

Jeffreys also cites Sarah Bradford's comprehensive biography, Diana, as a key source for understanding the formation of her character. But no matter how many knowledgeable sources he consulted, it was clear to Jeffreys he was about to head into perilous territory.

After all, he would be trying to peer inside one of the most beloved women of our age, perhaps of any age, a woman who has entered the mysterious realm of Myth. In the years since her passing, Diana has been relentlessly studied and analyzed as the very symbol of all-consuming, modern celebrity culture. Yet, Jeffreys did not ever want to forget the very human woman he met, the woman full of flaws and emotions who lived beneath the glamour, fame and social position.

Then there was also the fact that much of the film takes place behind closed doors, in intimate conversations no outsider could have witnessed. For Jeffreys, this meant being willing to take some leaps. "In private scenes, no one actually knows what happened of course," notes the screenwriter. "So I tried to take off and fly using empathy and imagination. This was the hardest part, but we always aimed to be true to the spirit of Diana."

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