TV review: Princess Diana's Dresses: the Auction, Channel 4

 

"Every sequin, stitch and seam provides a window on to her short but extraordinary life," said the voiceover at the beginning of Princess Diana's Dresses: the Auction, an instructively besotted film about the sale of 10 of Diana's frocks. "These dresses," it had already promised, "hold the key to understanding Diana as never before." An hour later, with your understanding of Diana unchanged by a single stitch, any doubt about that claim had hardened into certainty.

Which didn't mean the film was entirely pointless, though. Because, as the Duchess of Cambridge trembles on the brink of delivery, it provided a timely reminder of the masturbatory hysteria of the British press when in pursuit of a royal story. If Kate is still unsure about how over-excited, vicious and inconsistent it can get, this should put her right.

The sale here wasn't the big 1997 auction Diana held herself, to offload old schmutter and raise money for charity, but an ancillary sale conducted by Kerry Taylor, who testified to the unsettling fetishism of the collectors when it comes to acquiring Diana relics. Some of them actually get the dresses DNA tested (is her DNA on public record, then?) and none of them would dream of washing them. A wine stain, a heel mark, or the ghostly imprint of childish fingers in green velvet all add extra value, and could, I suppose, be regarded as delivering some kind of biographical detail. Apart from that, these dresses, all from the later stages of her time in office as the paparazzi's number one target, couldn't supply a lot in the way of revelation.

Instead, they supplied an excuse to tell the old familiar story, of the frump who kissed a prince and turned into a fairy-tale enchantress. The prince, meanwhile, turned into a grouch, petulantly sulky at the fascination his wife exerted over the members of the press. And the most interesting dress here was one that wasn't actually in the sale – the Christina Stambolian black number that Diana pulled out of the wardrobe on the night Prince Charles talked about the marriage on television for the first time. If he'd thought he might command the front pages for one day at least, he severely underestimated her. She was both bombshell and delivery system all in one, and blew him into the side columns.

Family Tree is an odd kind of affair. It's been created by comedy aristocracy (it's co-written and directed by Christopher Guest, who created This Is Spinal Tap), but it came across in this first episode as amateurishly awkward, funny in a desultory kind of way at one moment, startlingly clunky at others.

Chris O'Dowd stars as Tom, an out-of-work risk assessor triggered to research his ancestral past by a bequest from a great-aunt, and Nina Conti plays his sister Bea, complete with the monkey vent doll, explained here as the result of childhood therapy for elective mutism ("she hadn't skoken in weeks," the monkey helpfully explains). The dialogue has the loose, bantering style of improvisation – which gives it a warmth and realism to counterbalance the slightly effortful zaniness – and the style (in a half-hearted way) is mock-documentary.

The format doesn't make much sense. Why would anyone be making a film about Tom and his family, particularly since the mission to explore the past hasn't even occurred to him at the beginning of the episode? Besides, there doesn't seem to be any real tension between the actuality sequences and the more formal talking-head interviews that occasionally pop up (in the style of Modern Family).

But it is Christopher Guest. Some of the character comedy, promisingly, is funny, in particular a sequence in which Tom went on a blind date with a very stupid girl ("There's been loads of sightings of dinosaurs in Africa," she assured him when he expressed polite doubt about their continued existence). Watch, in the hope of developments.

Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living