Film Review: Diana

A royal bore.

After the endless media coverage afforded Princess Diana in life as well as after, was one more movie about her really necessary? Apparently, the filmmakers here thought the Princess' "secret" love affair with Pakistani surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), outlined in a 2001 book by Kate Snell, one of the producers, warranted the effort. The result is a handsomely produced biopic that skirts out-and-out trashiness but, such is the Faustian dramatic pact inherent in these endeavors, also sacrifices any vivid sense of life, or the fun a somewhat campier approach might have provided.

Stephen Jeffreys' script for Diana is drably competent and undeniably "respectful" toward the dead, but never more than that, and is sadly devoid of real romance or glamour which could deliriously spin the enterprise into a guilty, confectionary, tinged-with-sadness pleasure. Oliver Hirschbiegel's direction seems merely a matter of swiftly steering the various characters through the luxe environs of Kensington Palace, the Ritz Hotel in Paris, etc. There are humbler locales as well, when Diana (Naomi Watts) goes about her anti-land mine campaign and here she is positively elevated to sainthood, posing with mangled children and even allowing a blind man to ecstatically feel the contours of her face.

The production and cinematography are mutedly attractive, and perhaps afford enough luxurious perks in which the susceptible can revel. The film does improve on life, however, in the matter of costuming. Diana, whose sense of style was often questionable—however much people may want to make a fashion icon of her—is dressed by Melissa Toth in more subdued shades and silhouettes which give her a sartorial elegance she often did not possess in life. That office-manager cropped hairdo was always unfortunate, however, and Watts' stiff, surprisingly obvious wig is decidedly no improvement.

Well-dressed or not, what might have illumined and ignited the project would be a true charismatic star performance in the admittedly highly challenging title role. Watts works away at it with all her considerable will and intelligence, but the fact remains that, strong actress as she is, she is simply not a star. She just does not exude the immediate magnetism that her countrywoman Nicole Kidman—soon to appear in a Grace Kelly film—possesses in spades. Visually, Watts' round face has none of the iconic magic that Diana had either. Was the Princess of Wales truly beautiful—with that prominent equine nose—or did her incredible allure render such questions purely moot? The difference between her and Watts is never more apparent than in the re-enacted TV interview in which Diana broke her silence and spoke of her unhappy marriage. The film posits that Diana was very much the steward of her own fate, scrupulously rehearsing her answers to the questions posed and, even later, informing the paparazzi of her whereabouts during the Dodi Fayed affair which followed her relationship with Khan. On TV, Diana was mesmerizing, infinitely sad and a bit unearthly, while Watts does her best to imitate her pose and delivery but comes off as nothing more than a schoolgirl with the sulks.

As this Diana sees it, Hasnat Khan would have been the perfect part for George Brent, had he been Indian. But the character, all stoic professionalism and seriousness, forever dwelling on the right thing to do, is a bit of a stick, and utterly defeats Andrews. Instead of basking in his would-be perfect chemistry with Watts, as this claustrophobic film a-deux progresses, with only a cameo appearance by Diana's sons and none by any other family members, you only become aware of what prominently large ears he has. Besides saving lives, Khan’s chief passions are smoking, jazz and football: perhaps the recipe for the perfect man to some, but you do wonder if he and Diana would really have lasted.

The movie is framed by sequences depicting Diana in the final moments of her life, leaving the Ritz Hotel for that fatal drive, and at one point she stops, as if sensing a menacing presence in the corridor. This is perhaps the filmmakers' nod to the conspiracy theories abounding about her death and, trashy as they might be, they could have made a more vividly absorbing film.