Diana, written by Stephen Jeffreys (The Libertine) is based on the 2001 book Diana: Her Last Love, by Kate Snell and directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall, Five Minutes of Heaven). The film, which chronicles the last two years of The Princess of Wales’ life, introduces the audience to a lesser told love story that seems interesting at first glance, but may leave audiences feeling a bit lackluster.
Three years after her separation from Prince Charles, Diana (two-time Oscar nominee Naomi Watts – King Kong, Mulholland Drive, The Impossible) meets heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews – Lost, The English Patient) by chance and they become involved in a somewhat tumultuous relationship while dealing with the struggles of being in the public eye.
The film does a fair job of highlighting these woes – the vignettes that show Diana in her lavish living quarters, completely alone, remind the viewer that the most famous woman in the world may also be the loneliest. There are a few scenes peppered in showing Diana put on a smile for the press at galas and events, keeping the coy grin plastered on as she is driven away, and showing it slowly fading as she escapes the crowd or slips into the privacy of her room. Thanks to both costume design (the pieces worn stir memories of old press photos) and Watts’ doe-eyed, poised performance, these are the standout moments of the movie, driving home the private struggles of the alienated princess.
These moments aside, the story focuses solely on the on-again, off-again relationship between Diana and Hasnat. Even the humanitarian trips throughout seem somewhat selfishly fueled by her unhealthy relationship, and rather than the Queen of People’s Hearts, she is painted as a desperate, obsessive, and even sometimes manipulative woman when later in the story, she agrees to a getaway with the famed boyfriend Dodi Fayed and alerts the paparazzi of her whereabouts simply to make Hasnat jealous. Unfortunately, the chemistry between Watts and Andrews is stunted, and the relationship seems unbelievable. Despite knowing from the start who she is and what being with her would mean, he uses the excuse of not being able to handle her fame to break her heart over and over again and yet somehow, it feels like the film is telling us to keep rooting for the couple to work out. It seems a disservice to such a well-loved woman to simplify her into melodramatic soap opera fodder (although the actors do the best that they can with the soap-y lines), all the while trivializing her endless humanitarian efforts and glossing over other relationships entirely (William and Harry are shown only once, briefly, and Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II are completely left out).
The most powerful scene of the movie comes towards the end, when the audience knows exactly what is coming, and Hasnat wakes up in a cold sweat to his ringing phone, as well as the phones in all of the surrounding apartments, and every light on the block switching on in the dark of night. Possibly out of respect to the still-living family, the events of Diana’s death are passed over, and the last image we are left with is Hasnat walking away from a sea of flowers outside the palace, looking considerably less disturbed than anyone should after finding out their greatest love has been killed. In this, what could have been a turning point for the film to pay tribute to Diana, the audience is left wanting once more after the film implies that history could have been changed by a phone call earlier that fated evening, and Hasnat walks away, leaving Diana behind forever.
Sadly, I was quite looking forward to this movie, but it did not live up to my expectations. I had hoped for more of a tribute and less of a Hallmark movie but, alas, Naomi Watts’ search for a project worthy of her talent continues. I give Diana 2 out of 5 stars.