Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) and written by Stephen Jeffreys (The Libertine), Diana tries to be a warts and all portrayal of the last two years of Princess Diana’s (Naomi Watts) life whilst simultaneously highlighting the romance between her and heart surgeon, Dr Hasnet Khan (Naveen Andrews). And in both cases it is incredibly unsuccessful.
It’s almost as if the film doesn’t even want us to like our two protagonists. Diana, starting off as a naïve woman who can’t even cook pasta, becomes a shrewd media manipulator at the drop of a hat. In the run up to her death, the film decides to make her a bitter and obsessive ex who will resort to emotional manipulation to achieve her ends. ‘I’m a princess, and I get what I want’ she says at point before allowing herself to be ravaged by Khan. Whilst we have no evidence to suggest she wasn’t all of these things, her characterization could have been more organic. Meanwhile, Khan is presented a pig-headed jazz lover who consistently spits his dummy out at every opportunity.
The Mills and Boon dialogue (‘Tell me doctor, is it true a heart can really break?’) is filled with exposition as Diana and beau hastily fill in the backstory of people the film assumes we may not have heard of. It’s sloppy writing that’s further compounded by lacklustre performances – Naomi Watt is playing a posh girl, but it is in no way Diana – and direction that can be bettered by episodes of EastEnders.
Now, we may be sticking our necks out, but the death of Diana is one of history’s defining moments and it will stay with people for a long time. However, Diana is not sure you really understand how shocking the whole thing was and handles it in a cack-handed manner as Khan is woken from his slumber by his mobile, presumably with a call telling him of Diana’s demise. Before he can answer it, he is startled by the noise of London’s phones ringing in unison; the night sky lit by hundreds of people turning on their bedroom lamps. The film feels the need to shake us and make us realize that this is history! It really happened! It’s all so bloody important! Drink it in!
A biopic of the late Princess Diana was always going to be thorny issue. Baptised into sainthood by the world’s media and its peoples, Diana struck a chord with many through her charity work and the perceived notion of her forever living under the shadow of Carmilla Parker-Bowles during her marriage to Prince Charles. There is always the danger that any dramatization of her life, even 20 years on, will smack of tastelessness.
Diana is not tasteless. Far from it. In fact, the taste of bile rises quite often and you’ll be wanting a pint of Listerine afterwards. And we say this having seen Keith Allen’s atrocious, paranoid frenzy of a documentary into the death of Diana, An Unlawful Killing.