There were two films called The Princess released in the UK this week. One is a hard hitting documentary exposing the struggles suffered by Princess Diana as she lived and eventually died under the unceasing public eye, the other is a 15 rated fantasy story about a young fairytale princess who is kidnapped and has to fight her way out of the tower she is locked so as to save herself and her family from a cruel Lord’s attempt to steal the crown.
Guess which one I watched.
To be fair, it could have gone either way as I loved last year’s Spencer, but on this occasion I went for the low brow option.
Interestingly, aside from their titles, these two movies share something else as well. Both highlight some complicity on the part of the public; one in supporting a press that made a woman’s life hell and the other in propping up sexist filmic conventions that saw princesses as simpering women who needed saving by a man. It is no accident that this second movie is showing on Disney+.
Of the two things it is the first that truly needs addressing as there are still plenty of famous young women being hounded and pilloried by an unchecked media. The second has actually been fairly well addressed recently. Movies like Frozen, Moana and the Aladdin remake have gone a long way toward redressing the patriarchal imbalance in these traditional tales. This new film is actually about ten years too late to have the impact it intended. It also misses the target audience and in doing so totally misses the point. In most cases by the time people have grown up enough to watch this, they have also grown up enough not to need it. The other area in which this fails in comparison to a lot of Disney’s other attempts to respond to its own back catalogue, is that it lacks even a modicum of subtlety or sophistication.
Still, I have to admit that even in 2022 there is fun to be had in seeing a princess kick, stab and slice her way through an army of grunting medieval soldiers. The movie clearly has a lot of other stories in its sights but the one it feels it is trying to riff on the most is the masterpiece of fairytale reinvention, and a film that is very close to my heart, The Princess Bride. This also features a rescue from a castle, it has an evil man trying to manipulate the monarchy to his own ends (although Dominic Cooper is channeling Rickman’s Sheriff more that Sarandon’s Humperdinck) and it centres around a forced marriage. It is also similarly knowing. It’s not marginally as smart but it’s got its eyebrow raised in the same way. It isn’t quite aping Rob Reiner’s 1987 classic, it brings more hurt and less humour, but it aiming in the same area. The idea of anything comparing to The Princess Bride is obviously inconceivable but love that film as I do, I have to admit that the gender politics are not great. This is the one area The Princess, with its sword wielding heroine, is demonstrably trying to improve on. They so should have just gone the whole hog and called it The Princess Blade (or maybe, with her battling her way through a tower filled with innumerable vicious assailants, The ‘Princess’ Raid).
This movie isn’t all that it could have been, it needed some less on the nose dialogue and a few more surprises, but the action is well choreographed and sufficiently varied (just). I’m not sure Joey King is the best casting for the lead, several of the supporting women have slightly more presence, but she’s got her own history in corny kid’s movie tropes to get past so I support the thinking here.
I am behind what this film is trying to do, even if it is as though they’d released Kick-Ass after the superhero genre reinvented rather than before. In the end I have no regrets for not going with the Diana one.