Antony Thomas Presents – Death of a Princess

Screening Friday 22nd May, 2009
In July 1977 Princess Misha’al Bint Bin Mohammed and her lover were executed in a car park in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.  She was nineteen years old, a princess of one of the largest and wealthiest royal families in the world.
A British construction worker had secretly photographed the execution, and when the illustrated story appeared across the entire front page of the Daily Express, it caused a international sensation. But that was nothing compared with the furore that erupted over Antony Thomas’ docu-drama, "Death of a Princess".
Having tried and failed to stop the film being shown, the Saudi Arabian royal family demanded the recall of the British Ambassador, and cancelled a planned visit to Britain by King Khalid.  The State Department put enormous pressure on WGBH, the American co-producers in an effort to have the programme withdrawn, but the station and the Public Broadcasting Network to which it belonged stood firm.  By then, "Death of a Princess" had garnered so much  publicity, that it attracted the highest audiences in the history of PBS when it was broadcast in the United States on May 12th 1980.

Since it’s 1980 transmission, the film has never been re-broadcast in the UK


Antony’s reasons for making the film

”I set off to investigate this story with the idea of doing it as a drama, and gradually I realized that something completely different was developing. Where I traveled through the Arab world, the story was celebrated. Everyone had their own version of that story, all very, very different. …Whoever I spoke to, whether they were Palestinians, whether they were conservative Saudis, whether they were radicals, they attached themselves to this princess. She’d become a myth. And they identified with her, and they kind of co-opted her to their cause. People were discussing things with me about their private lives, about their sexual feelings, about their political frustrations, that they’d never discussed with me before. … Somehow this princess was sort of like a catalyst. And after thinking about it seriously, I thought, my gosh, this is perhaps an even more interesting story to tell.”