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DIANA (review)

diana_ver3DIANA
Written by Stephen Jeffreys
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel
Starring Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews
 

Princess Diana: He doesn’t treat me like a princess. It’s almost as if he doesn’t know who I am.

I’m no royal fucker, but you would have to be entirely oblivious to not know what kind of world- renowned presence Princess Diana had when she was alive, and how enormous the impact of her sudden and unexpected death was on her millions of admirers. My heart goes out to these people because they deserved a far better film than Oliver Hirschbiegel’s melodrama, DIANA, to remember their fallen hero by. In fact, Hirschbiegel’s attempt to romanticize Diana’s final years not only tarnishes her memory but begs the question as to whether a film about her life should ever have been made to begin with.

DIANA opens on the day of her death, as if to serve as a reminder as to where this story will inevitably end. I should note right away that there is absolutely nothing subtle about Stephen Jeffreys’ (THE LIBERTINE) sometimes laughable screenplay. Hirschbiegel (THE INVASION) introduces us to Diana by allowing us to stare at the back of her perfectly coiffed head for the first five minutes of the film. He is clearly trying to tease us for the big reveal when Naomi Watts turns around and shows us just how much she supposedly looks like the princess. Once we meet Watts as Diana, we are painfully shown just how normal she really is for a princess. She changes into her sweats and has beans on toast just like everyone else when she gets home from a long day of constantly being photographed and hounded by hordes of photographers and journalists. I should also note that the direction is also equally devoid of subtlety.

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Diana was originally slated to be played by Jessica Chastain, and I’ve got to say, Chastain really avoided a major career misstep here. Watts, an incredibly talented actress, does her best here but she is constantly grasping at straws as that is all she is ever given to work with. Jeffreys’ script, which is based on Kate Snell’s book, “Diana: Her Last Love”, focuses on the last two years of her life, in which she meets and falls in love in secret with a heart surgeon named Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews, who should have stayed lost on that island). When Diana meets him, in a hospital while visiting a dying friend no less, she is instantly taken with him. It is as if Watts’ only direction here was to look longingly at the foreign man as though she has never known instant attraction in her entire life. And this is exactly what Jeffreys’ script implies. Having been in a loveless marriage and having been abandoned by her mother in her youth, Diana does not know how to trust or receive love, which is infinitely more difficult than giving love, as the dialogue makes unnecessarily clear.

Diana kept her love affair with Hasnat from the press as best she could. She did so in order to have something of her own that was not picked apart by reporters the world over, and also out of respect for Khan’s privacy. Apparently, or at least according to the film, Khan would not be able to carry out his duties as a heart surgeon properly if he had to deal with such intense scrutiny on a regular basis. This struggle defines their relationship and is literally addressed on screen at least three times to ensure we understand just how hard it is for anyone to be with the most popular woman alive. As Diana tours the world on humanitarian missions, we are meant to feel an outpouring of sympathy for this beautiful and kind woman who so deserves love in her life, but will likely never truly know it because of her fame. This point might have been made stronger if Watts and Andrews had better chemistry with each other. As it is, I never really understood what she saw in the beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking, Muslin heart surgeon with control issues other than he didn’t see her as just a princess.

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Beyond the insipid dialogue (Diana: I’m a princess and I get what I want), the lack of chemistry and the complete lack of faith in the audience’s ability to think for themselves, the most infuriating and insulting thing about DIANA is the ultimate picture it paints of this beloved icon. Hirschbiegel defines her as a reluctant princess who is cherished the world over but who has searched her whole life for that one special love that will make her feel like whole. He takes painstaking steps to make her into a real person, but by portraying her as a little girl in a grown woman’s body, both lovesick and lonely, just waiting for a prince to come along and save her from herself, he makes Diana into a bigger princess than she ever was.

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