Wednesday, 9 October 2013
FILM REVIEW: DIANA
Becker Film Group
Depending on your point of view, sixteen years is either too soon or just long enough for a film to be made about the late Princess of Wales. It's hard to believe that it was August 31, 1997 when Diana, along with then beau, Dodi Fayed, died in a car crash in Paris whilst being pursued by paparazzi.
That event book-ends Oliver Hirschbiegel's biopic-of-sorts (adapted by Stephen Jeffreys from a book by Kate Snell) covering the final two years in the Princess's life. Or to be more exact, her love life. And not with the millionaire playboy, Dodi, son to the Egyptian millionaire and owner of Harrods, Mohamed Al-Fayed, but Diana's on-again, off-again romance with Pakistani-born heart surgeon, Doctor Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews).
In the wake of her separation from Prince Charles and all but ex-communication from the Palace, Diana (Naomi Watts) is a lonely woman; hounded by the media and only seeing her two boys every few weeks. But then she meets the Doctor. The pair's meet-cute taking place in the hospital where Hasnat works: Diana, visiting a friend, is immediately taken with the man and, if we believe what we're shown here, actively pursues him.
Indeed, if this wasn't a film about "the most famous woman in the world" (a line oft repeated in Diana you could use it as the basis for a drinking game) you could be forgiven for thinking that this segment of the film -- where Hasnat sneaks into Diana's palace in the back of her car, and she ventures out in a brunette wig for nights on the town with the Doctor and clandestine visits to his apartment -- was a boy-meets-famous girl rom-com of the Notting Hill ilk (sans intentional laughs, though there are a few unintentional ones).
But a romance between a jazz and hamburger loving heart surgeon and a real life princess cannot be. Hasnat craves his privacy and Diana, whether by design or by choice, cannot be anything other than famous. The arguments between the pair over their two separate, vastly different worlds go round and round, padding out to almost two hours what is already a thinly stretched drama.
It's in the wake of her last break-up with Hasnat that Diana flees the country, accepting in invitation to holiday with Dodi Fayed. And it's in these sequences, where Diana is shown to manipulate the media, and Hirschbiegel recreates the now infamous photos of Diana and Dodi frolicking in their swimwear aboard the millionaire's boat off the Italian coast, that the film suddenly, albeit briefly, develops a pulse (perhaps because we know the end is nigh?).
There are arguably several things wrong with Diana but one has to lay most of the blame at the feet of screenwriter Jeffreys. The dialogue is unforgettable at best, and laughably bad at worst. Understandably all conversations between Diana and Hasnat are speculative but one wonders what may have been had a writer of the calibre of Peter Morgan, who famously penned The Queen (2006), been entrusted to breathe life into both the story and the characters.
As always, Naomi Watts is solid in the titular role but you need more than a passing resemblance to the historical figure you're portraying to make that person 'real'. It doesn't help that Princess Diana is so fixed in most people's minds that, even if she had donned prosthetics, Watts would be still be pushing a large rock up a very steep hill.
In that respect, Naveen Andrews has the easier task; playing an actual person but one whom few people could actually identify. Andrews manages to make Hasnat Khan both charming and stubborn but he stumbles whenever called upon to quote poetry or the Quran, and comparing life and love to jazz.
For some, particularly the British, it was always going to be 'too soon' for a film about the Princess of Wales and never time at all for a warts-and-all one. Diana isn't hagiography as such but nor does it challenge the memory of woman who still lingers in the public consciousness.
That's probably why a non-British filmmaker was chosen to helm the project. And if German director Hirschbiegel dared to make a film centred on the final days of Adolf Hitler (Downfall, 2004), he probably had even fewer qualms in taking on this challenge.
Still, Hirschbiegel brings little in the way of directorial flare to the telemovie proceedings of Diana, a film that's not as bad as you'd expect it to be but not particularly good either. And whether you're a Brit, a Diana fan or just a curious movie-goer, you -- and, for that matter, the Princess -- deserve better.