Film reviews: The Princess | Nitram | Minions: The Rise of Gru

Ed Perkins’ documentary The Princess doesn’t provide any earth-shattering revelations about Diana, largely because it’s not a film about her, but a film about us and our obsession with her story, writes Alistair Harkness

A still from The Princess: Diana, Princess of Wales is surrounded by police and security as she arrives for a visit to Harlem Hospital's pediatric AIDS unit in Harlem New York, February 1989
A still from The Princess: Diana, Princess of Wales is surrounded by police and security as she arrives for a visit to Harlem Hospital's pediatric AIDS unit in Harlem New York, February 1989

The Princess (12) ****

Nitram (15) *****

Minions: The Rise of Gru (U) ***

If the recent Spencer boldly re-imagined Princess Diana’s last Christmas with the Windsors as a royal riff on The Shining, the new archival documentary The Princess turns her tumultuous life into a found-footage horror movie. Like other films of this ilk – Amy, Senna, LA 92 – it eschews talking-head interviews and analysis in favour of judiciously edited in-the-moment footage. But rather that striving to provide an intimate portrait of its subject (as Asif Kapadia’s Amy did with Amy Winehouse), director Ed Perkins keeps us forever at one step removed, using the multiple lenses of countless news cameras, TV cameras and home video cameras to stalk her as if she were a victim in a serial killer thriller – a creepy effect he establishes with some low-res video footage shot by random tourists as they stumble across Diana arriving at a never-named event at the Ritz while driving round London one night.

Thenceforth the film plunges us into the eye of the relentless media storm, tracking Diana from her days as a 19-year-old nanny being politely harassed on the street by reporters desperate for a scoop about her impending engagement to Prince Charles, right through to the feeding frenzy that led to her death and the weird grief spectacle that followed as the British public succumbed to what the late Christopher Hitchens refers to as a kind of collective “brain rot.” Perkins certainly doesn’t shy away from ratcheting up the horror movie comparisons either, filling the film with ominous music to signify Diana’s souring marriage to Prince Charles and, at one point, using footage of a hunt attended by Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles to link the Princess of Wales with footage of a rabbit being torn apart by hounds.

If that sounds ghoulish, that’s the point. The film adopts a kind of don’t-shoot-the-messenger defence as it repurposes all the exploitative and intrusive reporting – along with all the relentless commentary from self-appointed experts and fans – to implicate everyone involved in the debacle, including the public, whose hypocrisy is subtly and repeatedly exposed. As such, it doesn’t provide any earth-shattering revelations about Diana, largely because it’s not a film about her so much as it’s a film about us and our obsession with her story. Diana’s public life is very much presented as kind of ground zero for where we are today, a theme encapsulated in an incredible moment midway through when we see Prince Charles encouraging a young Prince William to look down the lens of a TV news camera. As the footage on screen cuts to the bank of photographers and cameramen observing them, we hear Charles joke that they’re trapped. He means the professional gawkers that the confused William is looking at through the viewfinder, but in the context of the film it plays more like an unintentionally prophetic warning about how we’ll all soon be trapped in a voyeuristic, narcissistic hellscape of our own making.

Following Snowtown and True History of the Kelly Gang, Justin Kurzel’s latest film Nitram sees him once again explore the violence lurking at the heart of his native Australia by looking at the worst mass shooting in its history: the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania. Stripped of any sensationalism, the film adheres to new reporting standards by never naming the lone gunman responsible (he’s only referred to by his titular nickname), but Kurzel and star Caleb Landry Jones do provide a compulsively queasy portrait of his downward spiral in the run-up to the shooting, including a chilling moment late on when we see him blankly watching news reports of the Dunblane massacre on TV a few weeks before committing his own atrocity. The film’s power comes from how horribly ordinary everything is as Nitram’s exhausted parents (Judy Davis and Anthony LaPaglia) do their best to cope with their son’s inadequately treated mental health issues while Nitram (Jones) bumbles around town like an overgrown kid, his decline exacerbated as he moves in with an eccentric heiress (Essie Davis) living in her own Grey Gardens-style bubble. The film is careful not to provide any easy answers, but it does serve up a chilling reminder of how easily society forgets its own destructive impulses.

Nitram

Minions: The Rise of Gru is both a sequel to the mega-successful 2015 animated hit about a group of yellow, pill-shaped henchmen in search of a villainous master and a prequel to the Despicable Me franchise from which that film was a spin-off. Set in 1975, it revolves around the latter franchise’s villainous hero, the Steve Carell voiced Gru, when he was a schoolboy bent on joining the Vicious Six, a world-famous league of supervillains who seem to have been conceived as a kid-friendly homage to the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies. The film throws up plenty more pop culture references as it pinballs Gru and the Minions on a perfunctory quest to steal a mystical amulet that will confer superpowers on its owner. It’s pretty thin stuff story wise, but functions well enough as distracting eye candy for the summer holidays and Michelle Yeoh raises a smile as the voice of a retired martial arts teacher who trains the Minions in kung fu.

The Princess is on selected release from 30 June; Nitram and Minions: The Rise of Gru are on general release from 30 June.

Minions: The Rise of Gru PIC: Universal Studios