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The Definitive Ranking of Every Actress Who's Played Princess Diana

With Elizabeth Debicki joining the ranks on "The Crown," it's time to take a look at other Princess Di's.

As any self-respecting royal watcher knows, there will only ever be one Princess Diana. But that hasn't stopped Hollywood from cranking out various big and small screen productions (and even one musical) based on the all-too-short life of the People's Princess. While the real Diana had star quality to spare, those actresses who have undertaken the role have done so with varying degrees of success. But as we prepare to see another star step into the princess's impossible-to-fill shoesElizabeth Debicki will play Princess Diana on The Crown—here's a ranking (from worst to best) of the performances of those intrepid actresses who have attempted to play one of the most fascinating and famous women who ever lived. And for more on Diana, check out 23 Facts About Princess Diana Only Her Closest Friends Knew.

Julie Cox, Princess in Love

Julie Cox as Princess Diana
Multicom Entertainment via YouTube

Princess Diana's real-life lover Captain James Hewitt cooperated with author Anna Pasternak for a salacious retelling of their affair for the 1994 book Princess in Love. In 1996, CBS made a cheesy movie based on the book and Julie Cox's mumsy, mousy portrayal of Diana was positively dreadful.

Serena Scott Thomas, Diana: Her True Story

Serena Scott Thomas Princess Diana
NBC via YouTube

Serena Scott Thomas won the highly sought after role in the 1993 NBC movie Diana: Her True Story, adapted from Andrew Morton's best selling biography (which was written based on secret interviews conducted with Diana). While the film was the most dramatic—and sudsy—version of the princess's life to date at the time, Scott Thomas, who looked nothing like Diana, was just not up to the task. And for more juicy royal reads, check out 3 More Explosive Royal Tell-Alls That Shed New Light on Harry and Meghan.

Amy Seccombe, Diana: A Tribute to the People's Princess

Amy Seccombe as Princess Diana
Channel Five via YouTube

Amy Seccombe played the title role in the 1998 film Diana: A Tribute to The People's Princess, which aired in the U.K. and focused on the last year of Diana's life. It included the retelling of her ill-fated romance with Dodi Fayed that ended tragically when the two of them were killed in a car crash in Paris on August 31, 1997.

Besides some truly ridiculous scenes (like Diana sitting in the middle of a London gym after exercising on a tearful phone call to Sarah Ferguson), Seccombe's mopey depiction of Diana had none of the magic or spark of the woman she was playing. "I thought it was a good script," the actress told the Associated Press at the time. "I liked the fact that there wasn't anything dodgy about it." Sorry, but we have to disagree. And for more truths about the People's Princess, check out Here's the Truth Behind 17 Myths About Princess Diana.

Jeanna de Waal, Diana the Musical

Jeanna da Waal Princess Diana
La Jolla Playhouse via YouTube

Diana the Musical opened on Broadway in previews in March of this year, but was shuttered when the rest of the Great White Way went dark due to COVID-19. The producers recently announced it is set to reopen in 2021 and is also headed to Netflix. Jeanna de Waal has called the part a "dream role," telling Broadway Inbound, "I think the reason people will want to see Diana is because she's still such a huge part of our zeitgeist and a part of our awareness. And I think we want to celebrate her."

To prepare to play the princess, De Waal, who is six inches shorter than the nearly six-foot-tall Diana, studied YouTube videos and joked that with hidden platforms in her heels, she would be "significantly taller" for the role. Alas, it takes a lot more than a good pair of Jimmy Choos to capture Diana's star quality. While De Waal has a solid voice and a charming onstage presence, true fans of the late princess (who would likely be the first to buy tickets for the show) may feel as we did—that the actress was dwarfed by the real-life star power of the People's Princess, which looms large over the production.

Nicola Formby, The Women of Windsor

Nicola Formby as Princess Diana
CBS via YouTube

In the early '90s, the British tabloids were full of headlines about Diana and the other new royal wife, Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, whose marriage to Prince Andrew was also going down in flames. In the CBS miniseries The Women of Windsor, Nicola Formby, who strongly resembled the princess, captures all of a young Diana's aristocratic beauty and charm, even if the miniseries is full of sloppy inaccuracies over her relationship with Fergie—including having Sarah (Sallyanne Law) mistake Diana for "a film star," when they supposedly met for the first time on a polo field at Windsor. In reality, the two women, who had know each other since they were teenagers, were good friends who relied on each other in those early days when they were both newcomers to "The Firm." And for more on Fergie and Prince Andrew, check out Is This Royal Romance Causing a Rift Between the Queen and Prince Philip?

Bonnie Soper, Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance and Harry & Meghan: Becoming Royal

Bonnie Soper as Princess Diana
Lifetime via YouTube

Bonnie Soper played Diana in two Lifetime movies: 2018's Harry & Meghan: A Royal Romance, which aired before the royal wedding, and 2019's Harry & Meghan: Becoming Royal. The New Zealand-born actress made the most of her scenes playing Diana in flashbacks. Despite being a true lookalike for the princess, Soper said she had little knowledge of Diana before taking on the role. "I didn't pay attention to the whole Royal scene—I was a little southern girl," Soper told the New Zealand site Stuff in 2018. "However, I do very much recall seeing her in the magazines and seeing this woman hounded by the press. Then of course, with the accident, I remember being shocked like the rest of the world and feeling sad, so sad." And for more on Diana's relationship with the media, check out Diana and Prince Harry Both Struggled With This "Toxic" Force as Royals.

Lesley Harcourt, William & Catherine: A Royal Romance

Lesley Harcourt as Princess Diana
Hallmark Channel via YouTube

Scottish actress Lesley Harcourt appears only briefly in the Hallmark Channel's 2011 William & Catherine: A Royal Romance, which had a pretty formidable cast of actors taking on the royals: Victor Garber as Charles, Jane Alexander as Queen Elizabeth II, and Jean Smart as Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Harcourt struck just the right tone playing the princess in a video that Prince William watches as he struggles with his decision about the future of his relationship with Kate Middleton. The actress's striking physical likeness to Diana and her mimicking of her same lilting voice made Harcourt's few scenes in the film resonate with royal watchers. And for more on William's relationship with his mother, check out The Sweet Ways Prince William Has Taught His Children About Princess Diana.

Naomi Watts, Diana

NAOMI WATTS as Princess Diana in 2013 movie
Allstar Picture Library Ltd. / Alamy Stock Photo

We really wanted to love the only big screen version of Diana's life, starring Naomi Watts, who gave it her all in the 2013 film that focused on her complicated relationship with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan and her brief rebound affair with Dodi Fayed. But for all its good intentions, the film—and Watts' performance—fell just short. The British-born actress, who grew up in Australia, said she thought twice about taking on the role, but was "intrigued by the challenge."

Diana, which was widely panned, was based on Kate Snell's 2001 book Diana: Her Last Love. It was a good looking film that tried hard to get many superficial details, like Diana's wardrobe, right and relied on iconic images of the princess from the last year of her life. Unfortunately, the end result came off like a more glossy Lifetime movie. Watts did her best to sympathetically depict Diana's loneliness and heartbreaking search for true love, but there just wasn't enough suspension of disbelief for viewers to lose themselves in the story. And for more on Diana's final days, check out The 6 Biggest Unanswered Questions Surrounding Princess Diana's Death.

Emma Corrin, The Crown

Emma Corrin

We haven't seen Emma Corrin as the young Diana in the upcoming fourth season of The Crown, but given series creator Peter Morgan's previous uncanny casting choices and cinematic storytelling, it's a pretty sure bet the actress will be an intriguing on-screen Diana. While production was halted due to concerns over COVID-19, Josh O'Connor, who plays Prince Charles, told Harper's Bazaar in November 2019, "Emma's doing a brilliant job, and it's breathtakingly accurate; she looked the spitting image [of Diana], and it's kind of extraordinary. So that's kind of spooky."

Katie Brayben, King Charles III

Katie Brayben as Princess Diana
PBS via YouTube

While the prospect of playing the ghost of Princess Diana may have frightened other actresses, Katie Brayben embraced the role in both the controversial theatrical production and teleplay of King Charles III, which imagined what might happen when Charles ascends the throne after the death of the Queen . In one eerie scene in the televised BBC version, Charles comes upon Diana's ghost standing in a darkened room in Buckingham Palace late one night where she tells him, "You think I didn't love you. It's not true." In the play, she appears to Prince William, as well. The actress's performance had maximum impact despite appearing for mere minutes in both versions of the story.

Mike Bartlett, who wrote both the play and the TV script, said the depiction of Diana's ghost is "not an attack" on the royal family. "It would be very strange to tell the story without her," he said. "It's a genuine investigation of what it is to be that family and in that role in the country. And Diana is part of that—she was a national hugely famous figure, controversial in many ways, and she's still very present in the family in all sort of ways."

Genevieve O'Reilly, Diana: Last Days of a Princess

Genevieve O'Reilly as Princess Diana
TLC via YouTube

Genevieve O'Reilly's portrayal of Diana in the 2007 TLC movie Diana: Last Days of a Princess was among the most convincing performances of the late princess amid a sea of mediocre ones that had come before her. The film's set-up as a documentary-style retelling (with some artistic license) of Diana's final days incorporated news footage and interviews, including those with Mohammed al-Fayed and London tabloid editors. But O'Reilly made her scripted scenes feel more realistic than one would expect and her luminous looks did justice to Diana's enduring beauty.

Kristen Stewart, Spencer

Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart, best known for her role in the Twlight film franchise, will star as Diana in the upcoming biopic Spencer, directed by Pablo Larraíne. (He was also behind the lens in Jackie, the much-heralded 2016 film that earned Natalie Portman an Oscar nod for playing the former first lady.) Stewart will channel Diana during one weekend in 1992 when the princess had to decide whether to stay in her crumbling marriage to Prince Charles.

Larraíne said of his star, "Kristen can be many things, and she can be very mysterious and very fragile and ultimately very strong as well, which is what we need. The combination of those elements made me think of her." While we wouldn't necessarily have thought of Stewart as a Diana doppelgänger, her considerable acting chops and piercing blue-eyed stare have us excited about the prospect of seeing what she'll bring to the role.

Elizabeth Debicki, The Crown

Elizabeth Debicki

Everyone collectively cheered when The Night Manager actress Elizabeth Debicki was cast to play Diana in Seasons 5 and 6 of The Crown, not only because the willowy, statuesque actress bears more than a passing resemblance to the late princess, but because of Debicki's other riveting onscreen performances playing strong yet vulnerable troubled women. If the 28-year-old actress's recent performance in 2018's Widows is any indication of what's to come, Debicki could very well deliver the best on-screen performances as Diana we've seen so far.

Diane Clehane is a New York-based journalist and author of Imagining Diana and Diana: The Secrets of Her Style.

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