In the last years of her life, Princess Diana (Naomi Watts) falls in love with a Pakistani heart surgeon (Naveen Andrews). Will their love overcome the culture clash with his family and the press intrusion that surrounds her?
Naomi Watts (King Kong, The Ring)
Naveen Andrews (Lost, Planet Terror)
Douglas Hodge (Robin Hood, Mansfield Park)
Geraldine James (Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland)
Directed by: Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall, The Invasion)
Written By: Stephen Jeffreys (The Libertine)
I don’t normally read other people’s reviews before writing my own, but when I heard that “Diana” had scored just 3% on Rotten Tomatoes, I couldn’t resist taking a peek. Every review mentioned the stilted dialogue as a major sticking point, which led me to wonder – just how bad could this dialogue be?
I was still wondering this at around 5 minutes in, when no-one had spoken more than a few words. The first few minutes are almost entirely silent, following Diana around the fateful Paris Hotel, before flashbacking to two years previously and following her around a different place. Still silently. I guess it’s meant to build up anticipation for what comes next. And yes I was on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear whether the script was as bad as they all say. So, once they finally started talking, how bad was it?
Terrible. Bad. Awful. Really bad. It was bad. It was just written in a way that no-one ever actually speaks, with cheesy metaphors galore (“love is a garden”) along with things that sound profound but are actually just gibberish. The worst example was probably Dr Khan’s line – “You don’t perform the operation; the operation performs you”. You’d hope he would actually be performing the operation, given that he’s a heart surgeon and all…
Because, yes he’s a heart surgeon. A doctor, in other words. You may notice this mentioned briefly in the film…and when I say “briefly”, I mean “repeatedly, in every single scene”. There is a lot of repetition in this film. Diana admires him for saving lives, Dr Khan repeats how serious his job is and how he couldn’t do it with the press in his face. And then they say it again a few minutes later. It’s the filmic equivalent of performing Dr Khan’s beloved heart surgery with a set of playdough tools – clumsy and entirely lacking in delicacy. The film could have done with being half an hour shorter and that would have been easily obtained without the constant repetition.
The real crime of the script is how it makes Diana entirely unlikeable. You just don’t care about her or her love life. It’s amazing that anyone could get it so wrong – Diana’s chief defining quality was her humanity, setting her aside from the frostiness of the rest of the Royal Family. Removing any trace of humanity and genuineness from her character must have been a tough task, but writer Stephen Jeffreys does just that. Every kind thing she does is seen as a photo opportunity, and most of those are in order to impress Hasnat. There’s a unintentional cynicism to her character, especially when it shows her basically causing her own death by hyping the paparazzi up. I’ve mentioned before that I cry easily at films, but I was entirely dry-eyed at the end of this. I just didn’t care enough about her to cry at her death. And even if I had, the overacting extras in the background would have soon put a stop to it.
It’s not Naomi Watts’ fault. She is a fine actress and she does the best she can with the character, but there’s no way to make Diana likeable when she’s painted as a) whining b) stalkerish and c) irritating. Naveen Andrews does a good job too, but there’s no depth to his character. He’s a heart surgeon who likes jazz. That’s it for character development. He isn’t even given an authentic way of falling in love with Diana – she throws herself at him and he seems to just go along with it. Later, when he says he loves her, your instinctive reaction is “Does he? When did that happen?”
The way the secondary characters are handled is strange too. I just had no idea who any of them were, except the charmless Paul Burrell. The starkest example of this is when Diana is called to the hospital near the beginning and runs there to see a man in a bed who’s had a haemorrhage. Who is he? No idea, but he must be really important for her to be running down the hall in heels like that. Turns out he’s married to the woman who was doing acupuncture on Diana a few scenes back – but who was she? IMDb tells me she’s Oonagh Toffolo, but I’m none the wiser. No idea who Sonia was either.
And the thing is, that if you look at Diana’s life as a whole, you have a whole cast of instantly recognisable characters (i.e. the Royal Family). Even her confidante and Pakistan expert Jemima Khan would have been recognisable. The decision not to include them was, I suppose, based on a desire to focus on the Princess and the Princess alone, but the story of her relationship with the royals would have made a far more interesting story than this dull little episode. Even William and Harry are only in it briefly, missing the chance to explore the motherly side of her (although I understand that was the reality of that period of her life – the Palace blocked her from seeing too much of the boys). I’m no film-maker but if I was, I probably would have focused on her break up with Charles and the conflict between the public image and the inner turmoil, finishing with the Martin Bashir interview where the wall between the two finally breaks down. But that’s just me.
And then there’s the direction, which veers from weird to awful. There are constant shots of Diana’s feet (the run in heels at the beginning was one of many). Is the director a foot fetishist? Or was it meant to be symbolic in some way? It happens a LOT. And other shots seem amateurishly filmed too – when she’s in the Angolan hospital, someone ducks in front of the camera, obscuring the scene. Was he meant to be there? Or just a crew member that needs the Christian Bale treatment? The overall direction just felt shoddy and awkward. The only bit I liked was the way the last shot of Diana was a CCTV image of her in the lift, like the last image of her in real life – that was quite clever.
I’ve never been the biggest Diana fan, but now it appears I’m not the biggest “Diana” fan either. I was hoping that a film about her life would give me something about her to like, to make me see her differently. Like “The Queen” showed the raw vulnerability under the public face, in a very subtle way. This was meant to be some kind of prequel to “The Queen”, as it finishes where the other film begins, and I’m guessing it was meant to emulate that film’s Oscar success as well. It won’t. A Razzie may well be on the way though.
If you get as bored as I did, here are some ideas to pass the time:
1) Anachronism-spotting! Always a good game for period pieces. I think I spotted some inappropriate number plates, a questionable website address (I know we had the internet in 1995, but there weren’t URLs on every shop window) and a post 2000s-telephone number. My friend and I debated for some time about the Carphone Warehouse in shot at the end and whether it looked too modern and the same with Chicken Cottage.
2) If you’re in a cinema that serves alcohol, why not take a shot every time Hasnat Khan says “heart surgeon” or “doctor”? If there’s no booze, try using pic n mix!
3) Imagine that Naveen Andrews is playing his “Lost” character, and is about to start removing Diana’s fingernails. Alternatively, remove your own fingernails.
I hesitated about the scoring for a while. I gave “Movie 43” a 3/10 back in January, when I’d just started doing this and was scared to be too harsh. So it can’t possibly be worse than that (although Halle Berry’s guacamole-boob may have livened this yawn-fest up a bit). There were some good points, like the authentic reproduction of Diana’s style. So a full 3 points out of ten it is.
Watch if: There is literally nothing else on
Don’t watch if: You appreciate good film-making
Overall rating: 3/10
Kate Milner – @LondonWAToddler