The legendary British "People's Princess", Diana, Princess Of Wales is given the big screen bio-pic treatment. But is it a case of too little, too late a good 15+ years after her death? In a film based around her last few lovers in her life, 411's own Terry Lewis finds out!
Naomi Watts - Diana, Princess of Wales Naveen Andrews - Hasnat Khan Cas Anvar - Dodi Fayed Douglas Hodge - Paul Burrell
I must admit, as a kid I barely remember Diana, Princess of Wales in her prime here in the UK. I can remember some big stuff like her walk through the mine field and her being a charity campaigner but never once did all the “people’s princess” talk seep through. In fact, on the day of her death, I keep being reminded by my mom about going to my parents room to announce “that there were no cartoons on the telly” because it was blanket coverage on the four network channels in the UK. Obviously, my nine year old self didn’t see what the fuss was about and I still don’t as here I am, a 25 year old and a bitter media critique, years later watching a tribute bio-pic about Diana’s last great love. Maybe it’s the subject matter I’m not keen on this or maybe it’s the fact that Diana is one of the worst films of the year is really got me in a mood with this flick.
Having had her “separation” from heir to the British monarchy Prince Charles go through, Diana, Princess of Wales (Naomi Watts, The Impossible) is a bit lost what to do. Eventually she bumps into a brilliant med-school heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews, Lost) and the two try giving a loving but private relationship a go. After many start-stops, the two’s relationship reaches a climax and it all builds towards Diana’s tragic death in Paris.
Now in my review of Rush, I remarked how alike Chris Hemsworth looked physically to his character in that bio pic. This is almost an essential part of any film about historical figures or people of interest – the actor/actress needs to LOOK like whoever they’re playing to make them more believable in the role. Otherwise it’s a struggle to believe in them which you have to do for a successful biopic. One of the massive problems in Diana is that Watts does not really have the spirit of Diana in looks. Since film is a visual medium, this is needed so badly. She just looks like a posh divorcee moaning about the world, not an important figurehead of bringing problems around the world to light.
As well as not looking like Lady Di, Watts puts in a poor performance here. To be honest, I’ve never been entirely sold on Watts as an actress. She’s never bowled me over in anything and here’s no different. In fact, she makes a probably likable and sympathetic woman, given her situation, into a complete bitch through her performance. She mopes about constantly in almost a huffy teenager kind of way. I get how Diana is meant to be presented to us as a normal human being but given her standing she kind of deserves to be treated still with an air of grace. Watts kills off any chance of giving the character momentum by hardly presenting herself as a strong, imposing figure which Diana always seemed to, lead the film to disgustingly spit and snort it’s way through it’s runtime.
With the rest of the cast playing near pointless real life people that you won’t care about and as such not of note, it’s up to Andrews to try and lend some star power. Whilst there’s no chance of that from the former Lost actor, he does an okay job with what he’s given. There were parts where you felt sympathetic to Khan as a guy just wanting to finish his doctorate on his own terms and not having to put up with all the drama with going out with the “most famous woman in the world”. I’m being very charitable since Andrews performance is not worthy of any awards list but he at least got me through the film to the end.
The main problem straight off the bat is that Diana does not come across as a big film to be shown in theatres. The look and feel is like something out you’d see at a 1pm for a made for TV movie. The camera quality and production doesn’t really live up to what is presented at a cinema usually. There are scenes in parks at night time which are barely lit, giving scenes the emotional impact of a wet fish. The budget hasn’t been announced but given the amount of on location shooting we see it must be a fair bit.
There’s very little solidarity in the directorial style of Oliver Hirschbiegel either. I can see why he picked this as his next project after a few odd turns after his brilliant Downfall, yet there are some weird shots are ill fitted for a serious toned film. A roady run, where the camera goes down the hallway to a character’s position, would be absolutely fine for a horror or action film, not a straight biographical picture of someone’s life such as this though. In the opening there’s a few below the belt or feet shots as Diana walks around. Now there’s two types of camps for arty shots such as these. The first, it’s done to heighten the emotional mood of the film at it’s current moment. The second, it’s filler. Most of the special shots in Diana are the second.
With the content, issues and themes levelled at the end of Diana’s life, there’s probably a damn good film in there on the emergence of press and paparazzi culture effecting the right of celebrities to a private life as the core. You get smidgens of that but they’re handled so haphazardly and come across as unimportant, you feel like you’re driving your own brain cells through that tunnel in Paris trying to understand it. Presented to us as a master manipulator of the press, Diana comes across as a bitter woman scourned when we move to events covering her whimsical relationship to a speechless (literally) Dodi Fayed, doing it for Khan’s attention more than anything. Coupled with the fact that Diana is never really presented to us as a strong woman in the relationship with Khan kills off “The People’s Princess” persona as she feels like an utterly weak woman – not the hero of the people who would go through a minefield to bring attention to charitable issues. Themes like trying to cover up Diana and Khan’s relationship by lying to the press don’t go a long way either and if you’re like me and didn’t really focus on her life via the press at the time, she may come across as a thoroughly unlikeable, uninvestable cow.
The 411: Despite getting poor reviews from the British press, I went into Diana with an open mind, thinking it can’t be as bad as it is. Oh but it is. A perfectly poor-to-average romance film if it was left in that genre, this film is buried underneath the weight of the expectations and critique it would quite rightly get because it’s a bio-pic. Not that I had much emotional investment in the subject matter but I dare say there will be people who will and they will be left worse off than me. Terrible performances, poor direction and quality bereft of early afternoon made for TV films make for an easily avoidable smudge on Princess Diana’s legacy.