Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Juliet Stevenson, Geraldine James
Running time:113 mins
The lowdown: The most misjudged celebrity biopic since Mommie Dearest or Caligula, Diana is bewilderingly bad. Clearly aiming to be cast in the same mould as The Iron Lady and The Queen, this account of Lady Di’s final two years and relationship with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan is sunk by tin-ear dialogue, a script part Mills & Boon, part Hello! and drab movie-of-the-week type visuals. No one survives with any credibility in a movie that’s less Queen of Hearts, more fart in a spacesuit.
The full verdict: “The legend is never the whole story” breathlessly pants the Diana poster.
Hmmmm. Brushstroke events depicted within may have actually occurred, but the movie is “inspired” by Kate Snell’s Diana: Her Last Love, a contentious book that suggests heart surgeon Hasnat Khan was her true love and Dodi Fayed merely a fling to win the doctor back.
Compounding sub-Jackie Collins plotting is the unwanted romcom sheen. Stephen Jeffrey’s script is essentially a rewrite of Notting Hill, with Diana the Julia Roberts movie star and Hasnat Khan a more assertive take on Hugh Grant’s bumbling posho, in love with his dream woman but afraid of life in the limelight.
Moments of sub-Richard Curtis farce include the world’s most famous woman shimmying over a back fence and riding in the boot of a car to avoid paparazzi, while a tearful midnight run through the park demands Wet Wet Wet accompaniment.
This may have happened. And the gigglesome direlogue may be the way Diana, her spiritualist healer (James) and friends (all distilled into Stevenson) actually spoke.
But, such clunkers as “Did the press use the pictures of the kids with their arms and legs blown off?”, “You don’t perform the operation, the operation performs you” and “Now the road is clear” seem inauthentic compared to Peter Morgan’s script for The Queen.
The only good judgement on display is an avoidance of conspiracy theory nonsense over what caused the crash.
And then there is Watts. An actress of genuine talent, she seems overwhelmed by the responsibility of her subject and delivers a performance of Bridget Jones level ditz and Fatal Attraction style creepiness. When not cleaning Khan’s flat she is colluding with the press to get holiday snaps with Dodi that will inflame the upstanding surgeon’s ire.
Andrews too seems adrift in a role that mistakes a doctor smoking and chewing down hamburgers (Burger King, sigh) for genuine character depth.
The Royal Family are almost entirely offscreen, a decision that seems like filmmakers running scared. Although there is the implication the House of Windsor withheld both Wills and Harry from their mother (the princes are glimpsed only in long shot).
Bizarrely, the movie also seems to say that when not walking on a sea of landmines, the People’s Princess (a student of Islam apparently) could have united Christians and Muslims if she and Khan had been allowed to marry.
This level of crass simplification is omnipresent, even in the press notes. Producer Robert Bernstein, speaking on director Hirschbiegel’s work with a previous “icon” in Downfall (ie, Adolf Hitler) states, “Diana is another icon, and in her own way, she was stuck in her own bunker.”
That sums up perfectly the joint fawning and tastelessness of the entire enterprise.