Naomi Watts's Diana is 'very blond, very bland' – film review

The Princess of Wales biopic starring Naomi Watts has been slammed by critics, but is it really as bad as all that? Oh yes, and much more, says Stella Papamichael

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Naomi Watts's Diana is 'very blond, very bland' – film review
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Stella Papamichael

What was Naomi Watts thinking? No sooner has she landed her second Oscar nod for tsunami drama The Impossible than she’s in over her head trying to pass herself off as Princess Diana.  must have some nerve, too, tackling the last days of “the most famous woman in the world” when no film-maker in this country would dare touch the story.

As it turns out, Watts and Hirschbiegel aren’t that plucky at all. Their approach to Diana is tentative, like a couple of tourists on a British beach, dipping their toes in shallow water and running out again at the first nip of cold.  For Hirschbiegel there is a more bitter irony in that almost a decade after making Hitler look human in Downfall (and earning an Oscar nomination), he has failed to do for Diana what he did for the most evil man who ever lived.

The cocked head, the tilted chin, the searching gaze beneath fluttering eyelashes; it’s as if Naomi Watts is being mildly electrocuted to reproduce all the ticks and quirks that Diana exhibited in her 1995 interview with Martin Bashir. It’s easy to imagine Hirschbiegel behind the camera with his finger on the buzzer, pressing every time he wants an emotional reaction. Unfortunately, it does not have the desired effect.

What was Diana thinking? It’s difficult to tell behind the mascara and the nervous mannerisms. This rendering is very blonde and very bland.

That interview with Bashir is a flashpoint for the film, but it’s Diana’s romance with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (much too earnestly played by Lost star Naveen Andrews) that provides its framework. He falls hook, line and sinker for that eyelash thing, but if this is a love story between sinner and saint, he’s the one wearing the halo. “I save lives,” he says (more than once) and Diana is suitably impressed.

Not to be outdone, though, she wanders through minefields, kisses sick children and invites an old blind man in a crowd to touch her face. Her humanitarian work is reductively portrayed – just another way to elicit sympathy for her troubles, because long eyelashes will only get you so far.

It’s tempting to think that Diana’s charitable efforts were, in some way, an attempt to redeem her less attractive features, but Hirschbiegel doesn’t bridge the gap between the conflicting sides of her character. He doesn’t even try. He only hints at her manipulative tendencies. Diana makes light of being “a mad bitch stalker” after breaking into Khan’s flat, donning rubber gloves and proceeding to (shock, horror) clean the kitchen.

She’s also seen playing cat-and-mouse games with the press when Dodi Fayed enters the picture. Of course no one could sympathise with a bunch of slobbering press hounds, but what of the man who was killed alongside her? He only gets two lines in the script (bad news for jobbing actor Cas Anvar), but according to this film, he was only bait to make Khan jealous. Best to keep him in the background then, in case he starts looking like the forgotten victim in all this.

The thing is, Diana was lonely. Oh so lonely… That’s how Geraldine James explains away her questionable behaviour as acupuncturist and friend Oonagh Toffolo. Diana’s relationship with Khan is marked by separation because he firmly insists that he is “a private man”, unable to see how he can operate on people’s hearts (“saving people’s lives!”) with paps shoving cameras in his face.

On the other hand, he can’t live without Diana and the montage-friendly fun they had: watching telly on the sofa, frolicking on the beach and in the bedroom, her head thrown back in rapturous laughter – often at serious risk of tipping the wig she wore to disguise herself. Then there were the late-night dinners at Chicken Cottage, presumably because that’s the only place open after midnight.

The dialogue is as stodgy as the contents of a bargain bucket. Khan occasionally throws a little poetry into the mix, but very often they’re just attacking each other with the blunt realities of the situation, i.e. that she is the most famous woman in the world and he’s busy (saving lives!).

When Hasnat calls Diana to the middle of Hyde Park in the dead of the night for yet another round of stating the blindingly obvious, the only burning question that springs to mind is, 'Was the Chicken Cottage not open?' The park is a strange place to meet except that it offers Watts the chance to do a Tom Cruise and run off at speed through the dark empty streets, with strained expression, cursing a world that seems to be against her. And Hirschbiegel gets to tick off yet another cliché.

Truth? Maybe you can’t handle the truth.

 



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