Diana Paints a Dreary Portrait of a Disenchanted Princess
- Friday, November 01, 2013
DVD Release Date: Feburary 11, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: November 1, 2013
Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language, some sensuality and smoking
Run Time: 113 min.
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Geraldine James, Douglas Hodge, Charles Edwards, Cas Anvar
When it comes to Princess Diana, which Diana do you most identify with? Is it the betrayed spouse of an unfaithful husband? The devoted mother of two boys? Or the passionate advocate against landmines? Diana, the new biopic of Lady Diana Spencer from director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Invasion) and inspired by a book by Kate Snell, tries to give us all of those versions of the princess during the final years of her life, but in its quest to cover all the bases, the film never rises above the level of mediocre.
The film focuses on Diana's (Naomi Watts, J.Edgar) romance with Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews, Once Upon a Time in Wonderland), a dedicated Pakistani surgeon who loses himself in the moment each time he operates on a patient and concludes each surgery by telling his team, "Once again, we are the champions." A jazz lover, Khan encourages Diana to embrace improvisation in her life the way his beloved jazz artists do in their music. If only the filmmaking lived up to Khan’s directive. Instead, Diana hits beat after predictable beat, but still comes across as a flat, mostly emotionless telling of the life of a woman who captivated millions.
Opening with the moments leading up to Diana's fatal car crash in Paris, Diana quickly moves to a pivotal moment two years earlier, when the princess, in a televised interview, confesses to "hurting [her] arms and legs" in reaction to the pressures in her life, chiefly her marriage to Prince Charles. "There were three of us in this marriage," Diana tells her interlocutor, referring to Charles' lover Camilla. Yet she can't bring herself to end her marriage. Longsuffering, Diana explains to a friend that she "hangs on to things, like my marriage."
A visit to the intensive care unit of a hospital to see an ailing friend introduces Diana to Khan, whose good looks and unwillingness to treat Diana differently than he treats Average Joes causes her to fall for the doctor. A whirlwind romance ensues, with the giddy princess taking joy in the discovery that she's genuinely love-struck. Khan alternates between being a suave technician who finds happiness in one aspect of his life he can't completely control and being hot-tempered over Diana's neediness. The romance between Diana and Khan is the focus of the film, but also its major problem. Although Andrews does what he can with the role of Khan, he can't overcome a script that has him repeatedly voice the same insecurities about his romance with Diana.
Watts is similarly hindered by the script, which shortchanges her role as mother to two boys in favor of I-need-to-be-free soliloquies that quickly grow stale. The film moves across continents, from Angola to Pakistan to Italy, but can't paper over the is-that-all-there-is quality of the story. A romance between a white princess and a Pakistani doctor may have been a royal scandal in the 1990s, but more than 15 years after Diana's death, any potency that controversy once had doesn't come across in this telling. Nor does the film dig deeply into Diana's psyche beyond some unsavory lover-scorned behavior she engages in with a complicit tabloid press. Even then, the film invites us to sympathize with Diana's action (she's trying to win back Khan) rather than distance us from her—the thing of which the filmmakers seem most fearful.
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