There is something quite tasteless about the mere existence of Oliver Hirshbiegal’s biopic “Diana.” With the Royal Wedding in 2011, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and the birth of Prince George in 2013, the release of “Diana” feels like an attempt to cash in on the media frenzy surrounding the royal family by exploiting the memory of a much beloved figure, the Princess of Wales. While there is certainly an interesting story to be told about the life, death and legacy of Lady Di, “Diana” is not it.
Stephen Jeffreys’ screenplay, based on a biography by Kate Snell, chronicles the last two years of Diana Spencer’s (Naomi Watts) life, focusing on her private love affair with a Pakistani heart surgeon, Dr. Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). After an ill-fated television interview with BBC in 1995, Diana and her husband, Prince Charles, end their 15-year marriage, leaving Diana feeling overwhelmingly abandoned and pessimistic about love. While visiting a friend in the hospital one night, however, she meets Dr. Khan and is immediately smitten. The two begin a tentative love affair, trying to stay hidden from the public eye. For their first date, Diana invites Hasnat to her palace, where he orders Burger King instead of eating the dinner she has prepared for him, smokes indoors and yells at a soccer game on television. And for some bizarre reason, she’s swooning.
From there, the romance only loses steam. Watts and Andrews have no onscreen chemistry and are tasked with delivering some painfully cheesy dialogue, the likes of which one seldom hears outside a Lifetime Original Movie. Unlike the real-life media figure, Hirshbiegal’s Diana is regrettably unendearing. Her moments of strength are few and far between and are offset by repeated rejection and dismissal by Hasnat. Ultimately, “Diana” bears more resemblance to 2001’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary” than to 2006’s “The Queen” in that it’s mostly about a blond British woman in tears over a failed romance and searching, painfully, for something as simple yet elusive as happiness. Unlike “Jones,” however, “Diana’s” comedic moments are wholly unintentional, such as when the princess dramatically runs weeping through a park or when Hasnat sits down at a jazz club and immediately starts swaying with his eyes closed.
That is not to say, however, that “Diana” is entirely undeserving of praise. The aesthetic beauty of the film is its saving grace. Glittering ballgowns, decadently decorated Parisian hotel rooms and sprawling English landscapes dance across the screen in elegant patterns and colors, adding sharp contrast between the look and the feel of the film. The result is a cinematic Faberge egg: beautiful, ornate and expensive, yet completely hollow and useless. “Diana” strips its titular character of any personality, relatability or resemblance to the real Diana and instead offers an overly sentimental made-for-TV sensibility that fails to say anything significant about whom the Princess of Wales really was.
Despite the ineffective buildup, the film’s ending is powerful. Hirshbiegal omits the deadly car accident that claimed the lives of Diana, her boyfriend, Dodi Fayed (Cas Anvar), and the driver and instead banks on the audience’s collective remembrance to fill in the gaps in the narrative. Hirshbiegal’s misguided effort to pay homage to someone whom Tony Blair once remembered as the “People’s Princess” finally finds its voice in its last few minutes by channeling the authentic sense of loss felt worldwide in August of 1997 when Diana passed away. The story of Princess Diana, touching and tragic as it was, is one that warrants telling. Hirshbiegal and Jeffreys, however, are not the ones to tell it.
Grace Lovio covers film. Contact her at [email protected].