PLOT: A glimpse into the last two years of Princess Diana’s (Naomi Watts) life, from her separation from Prince Charles, through a relationship she has with a down-to-earth Pakistani heart surgeon, Dr. Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews).
REVIEW: It’s hard to imagine another big-screen biopic of such a beloved figure as Princess Diana going as disastrously wrong as Oliver Hirschbiegel’s DIANA. Prior to its UK release, this was tipped as a hot title in the year’s Oscar race, with Naomi Watts showing up on the shortlist of many top Oscar gurus as a potential best actress nominee. Suffice to say that won’t be happening as- to be generous- DIANA is Lifetime TV movie of the week fare, and without someone like Watts in the lead, would probably never make it to theaters.
Basically, Diana’s post-divorce life has been reimagined as a soap opera that probably owes as much to someone like seventies trash tycoon Harold Robbins as it does to anything that actually happened in the Princess of Wales’ life. Here, the “people’s princess” is reimagined as a love-starved jet-setter, who goes all weak in the knees for Andrews’ heart surgeon, although it’s never clear why.
Clearly, Diana was a complicated person, but her romance with Khan (and there really was such a fellow) is never fleshed-out. Andrews, who can be a brilliant actor when given the opportunity (LOST, THE ENGLISH PATIENT) plays Khan like a bit of a boor, quickly losing his temper anytime it seems like he may lose a degree of privacy through his relationship with Diana. Such is life when you’re dating the world’s most famous woman. As for Watts, she’s good at making puppy dog eyes at Andrews, but their chemistry is just awful. Watching her and Andrews as they frolic around in Wales on a supposedly “idyllic” romantic interlude is unintentionally hilarious. The two are so bad together it feels like they’re on an awkward first date that just won’t end.
One hesitates to blame either of them though, as neither has a thing to work with. The script, by playwright Stephen Jeffreys never manages to make their affair seem compelling. Potentially interesting facets of her life, such as her relationship with her sons William and Harry, or her tense relationship with the Royal Family, are completely ignored. It feels like everyone involved was desperate to make a film that would get the Royal Family’s blessing, although given the two-dimensional portrait of Diana, it’s tough to imagine this effort will be appreciated.
DIANA gets especially bad towards the end, where it’s suggested that Diana’s complicity with the paparazzi, who the movie suggests Diana used to make Khan jealous, led to her tragic death. The film is bookended by sequences showing Diana, immediately before her death in the Pont de l'Alma road tunnel in Paris, waiting in a hotel, gazing at her four mobiles, hoping for a call from Khan. It’s soap opera stuff, and no better than the various TV movies that were rushed out in the aftermath of her death in ’97. Hardly awards caliber stuff.What’s especially tragic about the film is how much of a misstep this is for the once brilliant Hirschbiegel. In addition to his Hitler saga DOWNFALL (which spawned a never ending series of parodies on YouTube), he also directed the superb DAS EXPERIMENT (not to be confused with the awful Adrien Brody remake), before suffering through the troubled production of THE INVASION. DIANA doesn’t seem worthy of his talents, nor those of his stars Watts and Andrews. DIANA really is a movie that’s best forgotten. The only award it might win is a razzie.