Picks and Pans Review: Princess Diana's Dresses

updated 09/25/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/25/2000 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Cinemax (Mon., Sept. 25, 9 p.m. ET)

In June 1997 Princess Diana, in a gesture meant to signify a more mature, morally alert sensibility, sold off 79 of her gowns at auction in New York City. What with the dresses, catalog sales and preview tickets, she raised more than $5 million for charity. (One dress, a beaded blue-and-black Jacques Azagury, was bought by PEOPLE for $26,450.) Two months later Diana was dead. The gowns, which in June represented enchanted fabric samples of her style, were now something else: swatches cut from the completed tapestry of her life.

Like virtually anything connected with Diana, whose natural charisma forced all eyes to swerve toward her like security cameras, this hour-long documentary, a coproduction with the BBC, is compulsively watchable. It catches up with a dozen or so buyers: a woman who raises miniature horses, a female urologist, a wedding gown designer. They all come across as nice, sensible people who bid out of a sense of admiration, to add to collections of Diana or simply to make an investment. They'd be unremarkable except for their connection-by-auction to the Force that was and is Princess Diana.

It's surprising, then, when the documentary suggests that these dresses are the equivalent of a saint's relics. There's no sense of passionate, mystical devotion here. On the other hand, the argument is put forward by a drag queen (and unsuccessful bidder). Maybe it's a joke.

Bottom Line: Fascinating material

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