If anyone had read the popular film websites’ scathing reviews of the Princess Di biopic Diana they might have been anticipating the film’s arrival on our shores about as eagerly as Australians awaiting the radiation cloud in On the Beach. Diana is undoubtedly a disappointing film with a thin script that covers only a small portion of Diana’s life, bland tele-movie production values, cheesy dialogue and an uneven central performance from Naomi Watts but the film it isn’t quite the cinematic Chernobyl we have been led to believe.
The biggest problem with this film is the scope of the subject matter it explores. Given the title, film-goers would be forgiven for expecting a comprehensive overview of Princess Diana’s life including her troubled marriage to Charles, her battles with the other Royals and her relationship with Harry and Wills. Unfortunately, this film is not a complete or insightful bio-pic, the other royals, including Charles, Harry and Wills, hardly appear and the film quickly becomes a romantic melodrama centred on a little-known fling Diana (Naomi Watts) had with and London heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). Written by Stephen Jeffereys and based on the book Diana: Her last love by Kate Snell, the film suggests that Diana vigorously pursued Hasnat and even stalked him before the two began a clandestine affair in the mid 1990’s. In what seems to be a case of considerable poetic licence, the film suggests that the familiar events in Diana’s life: the anti-landmine campaign, the support for the Victor Chang Institute and her relationship with Dodi Fayed were a direct result of her feelings for Hasnat.
At times this film goes off the rails and appears to justify the critical condemnation it has received. Some scenes are downright ridiculous and laugh out loud funny such as Diana clambering over the back fence at Hasnat’s place to escape the paparazzi or standing in front of Haznat’s house yelling for him like Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire. Somehow, though, the film just manages to clamber its way out of the abyss.
Refreshingly the film doesn’t attempt to paint Diana as an angel. While it suggests that she could be warm and caring and that her concern for children affected by war was genuine, it also portrays her as impetuous, immature and self-centred and suggests that she pursued Khan like a giddy, love-struck school girl. For the most part Naomi Watts convincingly captures these contradictions while also giving Diana an appealingly cheeky confidence and feistiness. As a physical portrayal of Diana, though, Watts’ performance is very erratic. At times Watts looks like Diana and has her mannerisms, posture and voice but occasionally she appears to forget who she’s playing and seems to be a completely different character.
Naveen Andrews’ portrays the conflicted Hasnat – a man who feared for his medical career should his relationship with Diana become public knowledge – with an odd mix of quiet nobility and soap operatic posturing. Apparently, Hasnat has dismissed the film’s depiction of his relationship with Diana as unrealistic and based on gossip.
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel, whose drama Downfall provided such powerfully grim vistas of Berlin at the end of the Second World War, disappointingly gives Diana the pretty but lifeless sheen of a slick midday movie. At times, though, he effectively conveys the oppressiveness of a life composed of carefully stage-managed public engagements and constant intrusion from aggressive paparazzi.
This is a questionable bio-pic and at times an outrageously silly piece of filmmaking but for those fascinated by Diana and particularly her tabloid incarnation, this film should provide at least a sliver of salacious entertainment.
Nick’s rating: Two stars.
Director(s): Oliver Hirschbiegel.
Release date: 10th Oct 2013.
Running time: 113 mins.
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