Premise: Based on true events, an English lawyer is tasked with looking into Princess Diana’s death under the pretense that there may have been a conspiracy to murder her.
About: There haven’t been many outright spec sales this year, but this is one of them. The writer did not use his real name when going out with the script though, choosing instead to go with the pseudonym, “Sam Cohen” (instead of Josh Simon). Why? Because he used to be an executive in the industry. Now whether he was afraid of sending a script to all the people he pissed off or simply trying to get a sale on his talent alone (and not his name) is for you to decide.
Writer: Josh Simon
Details: 112 pages – March 2013 draft
Why is that whenever some famous person dies, there has to be a conspiracy? Why can’t people just die and be dead? Maybe because then there wouldn’t be any movies? Anyway, I have to admit I’m not DESPERATE to read a conspiracy movie about Princess Diana’s death. I find the events of that night to be pretty straightforward. They were trying to escape from paparazzi. Went too fast. When you go too fast you lose control. Boom, crash, end of story.
But I guess there’s this intrinsic need in us not to trust. Some well-known journalist once said that people are unable to accept chaos. It’s too terrifying and goes against the element of control we all so desperately cling to. If there’s a conspiracy behind something, it means that the event was “controlled,” and therefore we can live our lives happily knowing that something this terrible and chaotic could never happen to us.
I’m not sure that theory makes sense but neither does Princess Di being secretly assassinated by the Queen. I mean seriously. Just roll with me for a second here. Let’s say you were in a position of power and needed someone killed. Would you really do it by staging a car accident? How many variables need to go right for a car crash to kill someone? A lot. The person can’t be wearing their seatbelt. The car has to make impact with the right thing as opposed to just spin out. It just seems really inefficient and difficult to pull off. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
British prosecutor Michael Davies is one of the only honest lawyers left in town. This is a guy who doesn’t play dirty. He doesn’t have any allegiances. He just wants to see bad guys who do bad things go down. Which is why he’s hired by billionaire Mohammed al Fayed to look into his son’s car accident.
For those of you like me who don’t know anything about the Royal family, Dodi al Fayed was the man who was dating Princess Diana at the time of the crash. He also lost his life in the accident. Mohammed is convinced that his son and Diana were murdered because Dodi was about to ask for her hand in marriage and the Queen didn’t want an Egyptian to be a step-father to her grandchildren or something. A little convoluted a motivation, yes, but in Inquest, nothing is quite as clear as you’d like it to be.
Anyway, Michael begins a hush-hush investigation into the accident but the British government catches on and they’re pissed off. Unfortunately, they can’t terminate the investigation because if the press picked up on that, they’d think the government was hiding something. So they actually encourage Michael to do his investigation – just try to get it over with as quickly as possible.
Michael focuses most of his time and resources on the person many believed Princess Diana was closest to – Paul Burrell, her butler. Burrell is sort of a mystery wrapped in a riddle, as he’ll reveal some deep long-held secret to you one second, then claim it was nothing important the next. But apparently Burrell had some sort of box with all of Princess Diana’s secret writings in it, some of which detailed how the Royal family was trying to kill her, and if she were ever to die, he was supposed to show everyone the box.
That was the idea anyway. For some odd reason that either wasn’t clear in real life or wasn’t clear in the script, Burrell no longer has this box. Which leaves Michael to make his case on hearsay alone – not easy in a town where people like to gossip more than a season of Real Housewives of Atlanta.
Another big lead is the Princess Di equivalent of the “second shooter.” Apparently, there was a mysterious white car seen during the crash that no one was able to find afterwards. Many thought the car was involved. Michael finally finds the possible owner of the car, goes to his house, and while approaching the car, it blows up. This is the only time in the script where you’d be even remotely suspicious that something sneaky may have happened. But I have a suspicion this isn’t the way it really happened. Some creative license was likely taken here.
Anyway, Michael fights all the people who are trying to shut down his investigation or encourage him to quit, while trying to get to the truth of the matter, a truth if he doesn’t find, no one else ever will.
“Inquest” is a fine script. It’s no worse than fine. No better than fine. It’s exactly fine. It got me curious enough so that I wanted to get to the end and find out what happened, and if you’ve achieved that, you’ve done your job. But where Inquest falters is in the story it promises to tell versus the story it DOES tell.
If you’re going to tell a conspiracy theory story, you need to have an actual conspiracy! Or at least strong evidence that something shady happened. I kept waiting for that piece of evidence that was going to rock my world but it was like all my Match.com dates – it never showed. When you see how creative conspiracy theorists can be when they come up with theories (hologram planes flying into the World Trade Center anyone?), you know how normal this crash must have been because the conspiracy nuts have nothing. I mean there’s a “flash” someone supposedly saw before the crash, which potentially indicates a military tactic used to disorient drivers. There’s the mysterious white car. There’s Princess Di’s driver supposedly meeting with French intelligence earlier in the night and getting paid a large sum of money (so wait, the driver accepted payment to commit suicide in order to murder Princess Diana??).
I just kept waiting for something to come up that would convince me something went down and it never did. The final 30 pages then become the court case and we quickly learn that making a court case exciting is really hard when you don’t have any actual evidence. Michael just wanders aimlessly through his questioning until we’re wondering if the conspiracy here is to put us to sleep.
And so much of the court scenes were geared towards trying to prove that Princess Diana was pregnant – I suppose because that’d mean the baby was the motivation for the hit. The problem is, WHO CARES IF SHE’S PREGNANT? She could just be pregnant! Proving she’s pregnant doesn’t in any way, shape or form prove this was a conspiracy. And that really embodied the spirit of the trial – Michael grasping at straws.
Another problem was that since all of the focus was put on the investigation, we never really got to know the person doing the investigating. When you write a script, no matter what the goal or journey is for your hero, you have to remember that the inner journey of our hero is almost always more important. To create an inner journey, you have to create flaws and problems and relationship issues in the hero’s life. These were touched on here but never in any substantial way. Silence of the Lambs is nothing if it’s just a man acting psycho behind a piece of glass. It needed that human struggle element. It needed Clarice to get past her demons from the past. I didn’t see that here at all.
Despite all this, the script gives you just enough to string you along. When it’s all said and done, it ends up being fool’s gold of course, since we never do get that smoking gun, but I suppose conspiracy theorists with a little more imagination than myself will find it entertaining. I mean this is really well written and researched. The amount of work that went into it far exceeded my expectations. I guess there’s a lesson there. If you’re going to write a thriller, research the shit out of everything. Even if the story itself isn’t perfect, the amount of research will help suspend our disbelief.
[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: If you’re going to put your character on the phone with someone we haven’t met yet, I’d advise giving them a “phone introduction,” a bare-bones intro that tides us over until we meet them for real. I read so many scripts where the voice on the other end of the phone ISN’T introduced (we just see their name over their dialogue) and it’s frustrating because I have no idea who it is our character is talking to. “Inquest” makes this mistake when Michael is talking to someone named “Clarke” on his cell-phone. Who the hell is Clarke? I don’t know. A simple prelude like, “Michael’s talking to Clarke, a deep-voiced authoritative type who we’ll meet later.” It’s KIND OF cheating since you’re taking us out of the story for a second, but I’d rather you cheat than I be confused.