Unlawful Killing: Gangsters in Tiaras and Shrinks in Armchairs
In short – “They murdered ‘er and then they covered it up.” You can bet that this phrase featured either in Private Eye’s ‘Great Bores of Today’ or ‘A Taxi Driver Writes’ and, if the latter, was followed by “I ‘ad that Mohamed Al Fayed in the back of my cab once”.
Clearly, Al Fayed had that Keith Allen in his pocket once, because “Unlawful Killing” all but kicks off with Al Fayed’s complaints of racist treatment at the hands of The British Establishment. Its campaign of victimisation – apropos of Al Fayed’s being a “wog, or even a nigger” – started officially last millennium with the denial of his British passport, reached its climax with a conspiracy (headed by Prince Philip) to murder his son, future daughter-in-law and unborn grandchild, and continues with the suppression of evidence surrounding their deaths.
As per the film’s title, the inquest jury returned a verdict of “unlawful killing, by persons following the vehicle”, but no-one was ever arrested or charged with the manslaughter of the Princess, her lover or driver. Journalists covering the inquest, claims Allen, were briefed to mislead the public by editors and proprietors, desperate for peerages, who are therefore in the pocket of The British Establishment, a point proved by reconstructions of inane conversations between hacks noted by Allen’s own “mole” at the scene. Consequently, Joe Public is still under the impression that the deaths were accidental, and vox-pops of passers-by saying “accidental” show this to be true, too. Unlawful Killing, asserts Allen bullishly, is both ‘the inquest of the inquest’ and the ‘antidote to the King’s Speech’, a film he somewhat bizarrely suggests is the ‘Establishment’s’ portrait of the royal family.
What undermines the documentary’s credibility, even more than its having been bankrolled by Al Fayed, is the cast of questionable opinions enlisted to support it. Why, for example, is journalist Lauren Booth any more entitled to give an uninformed opinion on the subject than anyone else? Captions identify her as the sister of Cherie Blair – a bizarrely amateurish touch which could only have been more so had they read ‘look who we’ve got here!’.
Oliver James, psychologist-at-large and Sunday-supplement columnist, is called upon to give an opinion of Prince Philip’s mental state. This amounts to a full-scale character assassination, comprising photographic evidence of Nazi sympathies and a run-through of oft-published and ill-educated racist remarks. Allen repeats titillating rumours of the prince’s adultery with, among others, Princesses Margaret and Alexandra. No real evidence in support of James’s diagnosis of psychopathy is produced, which is disappointing because if it had been, “Unlawful Killing” would have had something really interesting to say.
Pompous Piers Morgan, filmed in a London bar, says nothing of interest: “I’ve seen enough James Bond movies to know that they get up to some pretty dark stuff” is his reaction to MI5’s claim that doesn’t have, or use, a license to kill. Movie veteran Tony Curtis is wheeled into frame to give evidence of Dodi’s credentials as a film-maker, and Simone Simons, energy-healer, recounts a threatening phone call Diana purportedly received from Tory grandee Sir Nicholas Soames, whom, the princess said, sounded “as though he had a cock in his mouth” — undoubtedly Unlawful Killing’s finest moment.
The mystery of Diana’s death is indeed a compelling subject, both for investigation and for wine-bar banter which, because so little actual evidence is presented, is the general tone of Allen’s narrative and that of his witnesses. His choices, both of language and of cast, give the impression that Unlawful Killing’s main point of view is through the bottom of a glass, and its audience is left no less in the dark than if they hadn’t watched it at all.