The Crown depicts the final hours of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed as a centrifuge of competing interests. This much we know is accurate to life. Dodi wanted to please his father, Mohamed Al-Fayed; Diana wanted to evade the paparazzi and return to her sons; the paparazzi wanted spoils from the money-printing phenomenon that was the Dodi-Diana romance; and Mohamed wanted a rich, famous, and (most importantly) royal daughter-in-law. What we do not—and cannot—know is whether the young Fayed did, indeed, propose to the Princess of Wales that fated evening, and particularly if he did so in the emotional manner put to screen by Peter Morgan, creator of The Crown.
In the third episode of The Crown’s final, long-anticipated season 6, we watch these figures circle one another, each headed for a version of the same ill-fated destination. Aboard the Jonikal, Elizabeth Debicki’s Diana takes a call from her therapist, who instructs her not to get “addicted” to the spoon-fed drama of Dodi’s affections. Diana agrees to book a flight home. But Dodi (Khalid Abdalla) has other plans for their time together, having been urged by Mohamed (Salim Dau) to propose—and become not only a “colossus” but his father’s “equal.”
The younger Fayed takes the princess to Monte Carlo, ignoring her wishes to “stay in and be cozy,” and they share ice cream and dreams of California (Montecito, perhaps?) until they’re interrupted by fans. The ensuing paparazzi chase leads them to a jewelry shop, where a frantic Dodi seeks to calm an equally distraught Diana by offering anything from the store she desires. At first she demurs, but then she points off-handedly to a diamond-encrusted ring from a collection titled, “Dis-moi Oui,” or “Tell Me Yes.” She laughs as she does it.
But Dodi—well-meaning, and eternally misguided—takes the gesture at face value. He informs Mohamed of his plans to propose to Diana, just as soon as he picks up the ring at the jewelry store’s Paris branch. Mohamed insists that his son, a “closer,” bring Diana along with him and seal their fate in the City of Lights. Diana isn’t thrilled to have an unexpected stopover on her way back to London, but she agrees to the Paris trip given the Fayeds’ generosity in allowing her use of their private jet.
Here, The Crown makes careful creative calculations: It lifts details from the many documented facts of the evening, while confronting the necessity of filling in the blanks. We know that the real-life Dodi did hunt for a ring in Paris, but his reasons for doing so remain somewhat convoluted. As journalist Tina Brown writes in her acclaimed biography The Diana Chronicles:
“Diana was being propelled toward a posthumous charade of eternal betrothal to Dodi Fayed. While she recovered from the revving paparazzi pursuit with a soothing blow-dry in the Ritz’s Imperial Suite, Dodi was off on another errand to impress her: the purchase of more rocks from the fancy jewelers Repossi, across from the hotel in the Place Vendôme. The boss of this august joint, Alberto Repossi himself, and his wife, Angela, were ready to receive him. In Mohamed Al Fayed’s fairy story, Diana and Dodi had spied an engagement ring, archly titled ‘Tell Me Yes,’ in Repossi’s Monte Carlo branch with the intention of having it sized and collected in Paris. In fact, the perennially vague Dodi didn’t know what he wanted. He seemed to have had an unclear idea about a ring that he and Diana had glimpsed in the window of the Monte Carlo store, though the bodyguards later remembered no such visit. The eager Repossi laid out, for his delectation, a shiny array of watches, rings, and bracelets, but nothing caught Dodi’s fancy. … Within thirty minutes of Dodi leaving, the Ritz’s acting manager, Claude Roulet, returned to pick up the jewelry selection. He noticed that Mrs. Repossi was herself sporting a ring that looked better to Roulet than anything Dodi had been offered. At this request, she removed the ring, cleaned it, and Roulet took it for Dodi on approval—the first time Dodi knew of the existence of any ‘Tell Me Yes’ engagement ring.”
So did Dodi propose with this “Tell Me Yes” ring, as episode 3 depicts in such intimate fashion? Brown is unconvinced. And she’s altogether certain Diana did not want another marriage. She writes:
“It may have been Dodi’s intention to pop the question—his butler René Delorm said it was—but it is unlikely that Diana would so quickly have reversed the position she had separately rehearsed with both [her butler] Paul Burrell and [her friend] Rosa Monckton before Dodi presented her a Bulgari band aboard the Jonikal. She told her friend Rosa: ‘He’s given me a bracelet. He’s given me a watch. I know the next thing will be a ring.’ Then she laughed and said: ‘Rosa, that’s going firmly on the fourth finger of my right hand,’ an evasion of commitment Burrell endorses with his own version in his book The Way We Were.”
Brown further makes the case against the proposal with a salacious bit of evidence: The “Tell Me Yes” ring was worth $11,000, significantly less than the $200,000 ring Dodi had presented to his former fiancée Kelly Fisher. “Was the Princess worth less than Dodi’s dumped fiancee?” Brown asks, adding, “Besides, M. Repossi himself, in the first interview he gave to TV producer Martyn Gregory, said the ring he sold to Dodi that night was not an engagement ring. Only later did he change his story to insist that it was—and it must be remembered that clients of the Ritz Hotel were some of Repossi’s best customers,” implying that Mohamed himself had shaped the narrative to suit his interests.
Morgan, too, shapes this episode’s narrative to suit his interests. The proposal itself operates not as a dramatic revelation but as a fulfillment of wishful thinking: It allows us to watch Dodi and Diana plan what they might have done, who they might have become, had they not died mere hours later. Morgan shows us the best possible version of what might have happened between the two lovers that night, had Dodi indeed dropped to one knee with the “Tell Me Yes” ring in his palm. And in filming Diana’s gentle rejection, and the couple’s subsequent heart-to-heart, Morgan shows us the best possible version of Dodi and Diana as people. They present a united front, both of them convinced that, in the coming weeks, they will finally live as they were always meant to live. Dodi will defy his father and carve out his own future. Diana will escape the hurricane of her image and devote herself to the causes she cares about, and to the sons she loves. Both of these futures are a fantasy. But together they make for an intoxicating story.
In presenting this possibility so plainly, Morgan takes a side: His view is not Mohamed’s, wherein Dodi and Diana were star-crossed lovers bound for eternal matrimony before their lives were stolen, likely in a conspiracy orchestrated by the Crown itself. Nor is Morgan’s perspective that of the royal family or of the British press, which treated the mystery of Diana and Dodi’s final hours as a sort of virus, spreading all too far and growing all too quickly. Instead, he lands on the optimist’s approach: that Diana and Dodi ended their lives having finally realized what was best for them, and having committed—not to each other, but to a future where they might be made whole.
This is not exactly revisionist, but neither is it fact. We don’t know if Dodi proposed, and if he did, we can’t be sure that Diana reacted with such diplomacy. Nor do we know if Diana and Dodi would have been able to slay the demons of their increasingly public lives, had they lived to see the other side of the Pont de l’Alma Tunnel. But we can hope. We can wish this for them. And Morgan recognizes the power of that wish. It is a tool he wields without shame, and in fact with a great deal of pride, as he closes these final chapters in what is ultimately Queen Elizabeth’s story. Whatever the real-life royals might think of their on-screen depictions, The Crown has almost always opted to view the monarch and her extended cast with a soft lens.
“I’m emphatically not going to marry Dodi,” Diana tells her son Prince William over the phone in episode 3. “Mummy just needs to make some changes to her life, that’s all.” We don’t know if Diana ever said these exact words to her son, the eventual King of England, already hurtling toward his predetermined future. But Morgan intends them to reassure both the young William and The Crown’s audience anyway: With the right changes—the right story—all might still be well.
Lauren Puckett-Pope is a staff culture writer at ELLE, where she primarily covers film, television and books. She was previously an associate editor at ELLE.