Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Screenwriter: Stephen Jeffreys
Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Geraldine James, Daniel Pirrie, Charles Edwards
Running time: 113 minutes
Depicting the last few years of Princess Diana’s (Watts) life, specifically her media-frenzied relationship with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Andrews).
To say Diana has been less than warmly received is…an understatement. Such vitriol as has been spewed towards it, expectations were fairly low going in. I wish I could say that I didn’t conform, that my views had swayed away from those fiery critics, that I found something of merit, but in truth there really isn’t much to get excited about. Had I walked into Diana on opening night, I would have walked out feeling exactly the same: totally and utterly underwhelmed.
To do a biopic when either the character in the question or close family is still alive is always going to be delicate ground – particularly, in Princess Diana’s case, when such tragedy is involved. It’s hard to know exactly what the Princes Harry and William will make of this film (they’ll probably be told to say they liked it), but I struggle to see them enjoying their mother’s extraordinary life being portrayed on the big screen as merely a sassy, illicit love affair. This is where it all breaks down to one simple problem: why, when dealing with a woman of such complexity, generosity, interest and scope, did they decide to focus on her relationship with Khan? Why on Earth did they think that was the best way to go? Sure it might have been an important part of her life personally, but it was personal. We don’t know the behind the scenes, and maybe we shouldn’t.
There’s so much to tell about this woman, so many angles to take, but writer Stephen Jeffreys seems more interested in writing Sex And The City 3. Somehow the worst part of his terrible script isn’t that it’s unfair to the characters it portrays, playing out as a cheap love affair full of speculation and sleaze, but that it’s the most contrived and shudderingly-embarrassing thing you’ll hear all year. There isn’t a problem with being sentimental if it’s done with genuine intent, but Jeffreys’ script is so self-congratulatory and knowing, blatantly trying to be profound and tug at the heartstrings with pitifully silly dialogue. It’s genuinely painful at times, and I could feel the collective unease in the audience. We we all thinking exactly the same thing: how on Earth did this get the green light? I like Naomi Watts, and even Naveen Andrews of Lost fame, but no-one could make these lines convincing. Not even Daniel Day-Lewis. It doesn’t help, either, that Watts looks absolutely nothing like Princess Diana.
There is a great film in here somewhere, and once in a while it almost finds the right path. The sequences with Diana on her humanitarian missions across the globe begin to show a new side to her; the side that the film should be focusing on, or at least actively exploring. I know that’s the film I want to see. Yet all too soon it veers back onto the dirt track of random and pointless subplots full of yet more stupid dialogue and boring conflicts.
It’s all just a very dull affair. Put it up against Hirschbiegel’s magnificent Downfall (another biopic that really is magnificent), and it’s almost inconceivable that he made both films. The gap in quality is just incalculable. In fact, it’s less of a gap than a void. With such a vast, rich background to sift through, to turn a film about such an interesting, inspirational figure into something so cold and reserved is quite an achievement. Diana isn’t the worst film you’ll see this year, but it’s certainly trying to be.