A dedicated performance by Naomi Watts can’t save this fictional reimaging of Princess Diana’s last years of her life and romance with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews).
“Diana”, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (“Downfall”) and written by Stephen Jeffries based on the book “Her Last Love” by Kate Snell, faces a hard task from outset – presenting a beloved Princess in a compelling way that won’t tarnish her memory, depicting a romance of which not much is known, and, like all films inspired by a true story, creating tension when everyone already knows how it ends.
For the first two: dialogue is clunky, the scenes between Diana and Hasnat cheesy and stiff, and while they do make an effort to show Diana’s humanitarian work and her exceptional ability to play the media, it is only in throwaway recreations of actual footage that do nothing to flesh out her character. No other Royal presence is shown in the film, leaving her alone on an island with no on-screen adversaries, even her two sons are only seen from a distance. While this is respectful to her family, the focus of the film becomes incredibly narrow in a way that does not do justice to the subject matter and the very complicated life she led.
Surprisingly, it is this last part of building tension where the film succeeds to the most. Beginning with a long tracking shot as we follow Princess Diana getting ready to leave her hotel in Paris, it becomes clear that this is Diana’s last night. When we finally come back to that moment at the end of the film, it evokes a sadness without being exploitative, and no matter what you think of Princess Diana or the film, you will be hard pressed not to feel teary when ex-lover Khan, and thousands of British mourners, lay flowers at the gates of Kensington Palace in utter grief.
Watts’s involvement in this level of film may seem surprising, if not for the carrot that there seem to be three main paths to award recognition for actresses: play ugly, play broken, play someone famous – see Cate Blanchett in “The Aviator” (Oscar), Julia Roberts in “Erin Brockovich” (Oscar) and the soon to be released, yet delayed, “Grace of Monaco” starring Nicole Kidman. Watts has obviously studied Diana intensely and her mannerisms and affected Royal accent are mimicked to perfection, but this almost seems to take away from the overall experience of the character. The Royal accent in particular is off putting. At best, the very studied way in which they speak (and continue to speak, hello Catherine) already sounds unnatural, and while Diana would have (and did) talk like this in public, in private you can’t help but think her tone and sentence structure would revert back to something more casual and reflective of her life pre-Royal Wedding. Something with a bit more personality.
For Princess Diana fans this is probably worth checking out for the scene recreations and reminder of the frenzy she inspired. It would provide greater insight into her last relationship with Hasnat Khan, if not for the fact that it’s pretty much all made up for dramatisation, and Hasnat himself has branded the film a ‘betrayal’ of their relationship.
Perfectly watchable for a rainy weekend midday movie, but don’t expect this one to make it to any red carpet award seasons. The fascination with Princess Diana will no doubt continue, but hopefully she will be honoured in more rewarding ways than this.