In 2013, Princess Diana’s memory was smudged by a shallow, overly-sentimental biopic starring Naomi Watts, which documented the final two years of her life. “Evidently, [director] Hirschbiegel and Watts are wary of probing too deeply into the mindset of the woman who aspired to be ‘a Queen of people’s hearts’, making the end result pure fluff”, was the RadioTimes.com verdict at the time.
Four years later, Diana and I – an excruciating one-off BBC drama – arrives to prove that its always possible to lower the bar. It is, however, significantly less offensive to Diana’s memory, because, in truth, it has very little to do with her. Of course, the filmmakers are under no creative obligation to honour the princess with a collection of tales that simply take her death as a jumping off point, but scheduling it as part of an ongoing commemoration of the 20th anniversary feels like a cheap attempt to lure viewers into what is essentially a televisual re-hash of Love Actually – without the Christmas songs or the funny bits.
The film follows four individual Britons who are all affected – though very loosely – by the events of August 31st 1997. There’s Mary McDonald (Tamsin Greig), an opportunistic Glaswegian florist who drives a refrigerated van full of flowers to London to make some money out of the mourning public; young Jack (Nico Mirallegro), whose mother passes away from cancer just as the news is breaking about Diana; keen journo Michael (Laurie Davidson), who is honeymooning in Paris when the story breaks, and Yasmin (Kiran Sonia Sawar), a Bradford housewife who flees her home – and her husband’s grasp – to mourn the princess in London.
If it isn’t Peter Cattaneo’s camera eradicating all mystery from the story – his lens lingers long enough to suggest, very early on, exactly who is in love with who – it’s the ham-fisted dialogue. “You two should marry”, Mary’s mother says to a clearly embarrassed Mary and her florist friend Gordon (Ben Gordon Sinclair), who exits sheepishly.
Elsewhere, basic observations on life and happiness are delivered like nuggets of wisdom. “The heart follows no creed”, Yasmin’s uncle tells her, with the air of a man who has long-since discovered the meaning of life.
Of the main characters, only Yasmin is – again, loosely – spiritually troubled by the death of the princess. Others merely listen to the reports, or engage in idle chatter about her affect on people – the kind that you are likely to have heard several times over down the pub, entirely devoid of substance. It fails to delve beneath the surface of the widespread grief, which is already well documented in countless documentaries and news reports.
Without offering fresh insight into Diana’s legacy, the film’s purpose at this point in time is called into question – and with it its right to the viewer’s attention. Despite a couple of strong performances from the ever-reliable Greig and Neil Morrissey, who plays Jack’s estranged father, there is very little to like about this drama. Its narratives are so hackneyed, its dialogue so corny, that as the stories build towards predictable conclusions, the anticipation of cringe moments – which, when they come, are convulsive and full-bodied – becomes almost as unbearable as the actual moments themselves.
The film concludes with a montage that includes actual scenes from Diana’s funeral, set to Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s Somewhere over the Rainbow, a shameless cliche that is a good enough indicator of the artistic depth on show here.
Diana and I airs on BBC2 at 9pm on Monday 4th September