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A missed opportunity – Oliver Hirschbiegel’s unconvincing Diana fails to ask the right questions
The great merit of the film The Queen, released in 2006, was it used the circumstances of Princess Diana’s death to examine, with a fair degree of intelligence, the somewhat strange triangular relationship between the British public, the monarchy and the government, and it also benefited from a performance from Helen Mirren in which the main protagonist was rendered with some conviction.
Neither is the case here. Diana examines the last two years of the princess’s life but only from the point of view of a sad and desperate love story which undergoes little development, and which makes the film seem longer than it actually is. We start at the point where Charles and Diana have been separated for almost five years and the divorce is imminent. A chance encounter with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan and again she is falling for a man who might help her through her loneliness and sense of victimhood. He, though, is paranoid about the affair being made public, for private and professional reasons, and it becomes clear that his conservative Muslim family will not allow a marriage.
All this is hampered by a somewhat clumsy script, milking the usual clichés of the couple-walking-on-the-beach variety. Almost totally missing is the presence of Diana’s two sons who were, without question, her main concern throughout all her troubles. Nonetheless, the film offers up some interesting tidbits, information that won’t be known to the public at large. We are led to believe that, donning a dark wig, the princess ventured out to haunts such as Ronnie Scott’s, and was a frequent visitor to her lover’s flat, or indeed smuggled him into Kensington Palace. She is also confirmed, especially in the final section, as being not just a victim of the constantly-present paparazzi, but also pretty adept at manipulating them for her own ends.
On the plus side Oliver Hirschbiegel’s direction is firmly controlled and unflamboyant, as one would expect from the director of the magnificent Downfall, the story of the final days of Adolf Hitler. The scenes of Diana visiting Angola and Bosnia are very well handled. He has a good track record in conceptual films loaded with the threat of violence (Das Experiment, Five Minutes of Heaven) and also in portraits of iconic figures reviewing their unfulfilled dreams (Mein Letzter Film, Downfall), but was he right for a piece treading the difficult line between doomed romance and a portrait of the British nation’s darling?
Where she recreates the famous television interview, Naomi Watts nails the character extremely well, but disturbingly, throughout the rest of the film her appearance is somewhat different and her performance seems a mere impersonation.
The film represents a missed opportunity. How interesting it would have been, for instance, to properly examine the psychological damage that was done to a naive young girl by a cold, hypocritical and uncomprehending royal family, and by the opportunistic and cynical media feeding a scandal-thirsty public. Did the outpouring of grief after the princess’s untimely death disguise at least a portion of public guilt? And how interesting it would have been to examine how that naive young girl transformed herself, partly through her own love affairs, into a confident and beautiful woman who, nonetheless, still suffered from chronic insecurity and low self-esteem.