Diana (United Kingdom/France, 2013)

November 01, 2013
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Diana Poster

Sixteen years after her death, Princess Diana is still capable of generating interest, which is probably the only reason why this dull, pointless movie was greenlighted. A scattershot treatment of the paparazzi darling's life during her post-Charles days, the movie effectively dismisses the idea that Diana's last two years are worthy of cinematic treatment. While Naomi Watts deserves credit for bringing a dose of charisma and energy into her recreation of the late Princess of Wales, she's about the only thing worthwhile in this dismal motion picture and her efforts are largely wasted. It's hard to believe that this is the work of director Oliver Hirschbiegel, whose Downfall remains the definitive account of Hitler's last days.

When one considers Diana's life, several events stand out as potential entry points into a bio-pic. The most obvious is her wedding to Charles - one of the most-watched worldwide TV events of the early 1980s - and the subsequent disintegration of their fairy tale relationship. Another potential approach might be to dissect the various conspiracy theories that erupted following her tragic 1997 death. Bizarrely, although Diana touches on the fatal car crash, it does so in a perfunctory fashion, and it doesn't even offer a flashback to her years with Charles. Outside of brief glimpses of William and Harry, none of the Royals makes an appearance.

What the film gives us is about 90 minutes of romance between Diana and heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). Everything about this love story is plodding and poorly handled. There's no chemistry evident between the actors, their relationship is an emotionally dead affair, and the specter of Diana's death (alluded to in the flash-forward that opens the film) hangs over everything. This isn't a one-on-one relationship; it's a threesome with the Grim Reaper completing the triangle. The way the movie is structured, it's impossible to become invested in the coupling. Once Hasnat has been pushed to the side, Diana spends its final 20 minutes providing confused tidbits about the princess' conflicted relationship with the paparazzi, her romance with Dodi Fayad (Cas Anvar), and, briefly, her death.

It's difficult to describe how uninvolving Diana is. It's both a bore and a cheat. One goes into a film called Diana with the expectation that something about the character of the princess is going to be revealed or, at the very least, some of the juicy tabloid moments of her marriage will be fleshed out. None of that is offered. Although we spend nearly two hours slogging through the last two years of her life, Diana remains a mystery. The film doesn't even try to present a compelling picture of her. It's interested only in reconstructing the setups that led to various tabloid photos. She's a blank slate. Naomi Watts does a decent job encapsulating the look and feel of Diana, but that's all this is - a two-dimensional recreation. Naveen Andrews is neutered and muted, a seeming impossibility for an actor who normally dominates the screen.

One supposes that a life like Diana's must contain fodder enough for multiple motion pictures. It's as if the filmmakers behind Diana made a concerted search for the least compelling aspects of her life and put them on screen. Even the most committed anglophiles would be advised to avoid this unless they suffer from insomnia and are in search of a non-addictive sleep aid.

Diana (United Kingdom/France, 2013)

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Cas Anvar
Screenplay: Stephen Jeffreys, based on the book by Kate Snell
Cinematography: Rainer Klausmann
Music: Keefus Ciancia, David Holmes
U.S. Distributor: eOne Entertainment
Run Time: 1:52
U.S. Release Date: 2013-11-01
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Content, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1