Movie review – Diana: Not fit for a princess

2013-10-20 06:00

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Film: Diana (Ster-Kinekor)

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Featuring: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews and Juliette Stevenson

Rating: 4/10

Rihanna, who was here last week for a couple of concerts, is pretty well known, as is Lady Gaga.

John Lennon reckoned he was more famous than Jesus and 700 000-ish people visit Elvis Presley’s Graceland annually.

But the sheer volume of interest in Diana, Princess of Wales – alive and dead – makes all of them seem like shrinking violets (and she didn’t even sing).

On Time’s Top 10 celebrity grave sites, she’s number one. Two billion people watched her funeral on TV.

The poor German guy who directed this film, Oliver Hirschbiegel, doesn’t seem to have grasped all this.

He was nominated for an Oscar for his brilliant portrayal of Adolf Hitler’s last days in Downfall. But the title of his most triumphant piece of film making accurately describes his foray into the last days of the most famous woman in the world.

Diana is an unmitigated disaster.

Shame, Hirschbiegel exposes his cluelessness with this comment: “As a German, I’m not really part of what’s going on in Britain and that helped me a great deal because I have a very clear viewpoint. I felt I was able to make a film that’s as authentic, honest and true as possible, without having anything to fear.”

“Authentic”, “honest” and “true” are three words I would replace with “awkward”, “gauche” and “irrelevant”. Some dialogue made me laugh out loud.

It was delivered by the unlucky Naveen Andrews while describing how doing eight-hour heart surgeries makes him feel. It was one of those belly laughs that couldn’t be suppressed.

I bet Andrews wishes he was still torturing people on the TV show Lost instead of the audience in this film.

Naomi Watts, as the publicity photos show, is quite superb as Diana.

What the photos don’t capture is how she masters the princess’ mannerisms and shy sidelong glance. She mimics the elegance and wears Diana’s style well (though she’s much shorter than the princess was).

Watts is a wonderful actress, but this role is a poisoned chalice and it will now always be an exception on an otherwise exemplary CV.

The film’s biggest sin, though, is that it isn’t the story I wanted to see – it is about her brief love affair with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Andrews) in the two years before she died.

The film makers did much of their research into this period of her life, but really they had to wing it as most of the shots are of interiors or are really late at night in public parks.

Most of this “Diana in public spaces” stuff is weird, especially the scene with a weeping Diana sitting in the middle of London in the early hours of the morning. There is no way this happened.

The real Khan is also dismayed at the film and said in a Daily Mail article earlier this month that it is guesswork and fantasy. I feel let down that a love affair is what this lot of British film producers thought people wanted to see.

The untold story of Diana is the one about her experience of the press, how she courted them and hid from them before they hounded her to her death.

Two scenes offer a glimpse of this: her phoning an editor to call off a photographer during a late-night hospital visit and her calling again to tell the editor where to find her on a yacht with Dodi Al-Fayed (who is reduced to a silent companion to make Khan, who has jilted her, jealous).

In a better film with a more relevant subject, Watts might have joined Meryl Streep (Margaret Thatcher) and Helen Mirren (Queen Elizabeth II) as an Oscar winner – she really is that good.

But not even she can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

The next big biopic about perhaps the world’s most famous man is Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, which will have to face the same scrutiny here that Diana faced in the UK.

Let’s hope Idris Elba has not supped from the same poisoned chalice.

The generous rating I gave this film is for Watts – she’s the only thing that differentiates this from being one of those films that make

you groan and reach for the remote control at the sight of one of those disease-of-the-week Hallmark movies.

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