For many, the night Princess Diana was killed is one of those “where were you?” moments. Even if you didn’t follow the worlds of celebrities or royalty, or the causes Diana highlighted, or even if you were just a little kid from Norway, you knew who she was and what she stood for, and that her life – to quote the film – was dramatic.
The film that bears her name has a lot it can explore. Diana and Charles supplied the gossip rags for years with their affairs and divorce. Her death is forever linked to the paparazzi culture, and her role as the People’s Princess is a fascinating phenomenon. With so many areas to explore, where will the film even begin?
We open with Paris, and Princess Di walking to the elevator, only to skip back two years. From here we follow her relationship with the heart surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan. Naomi Watts gives us a Diana desperate for a normal, loving relationship, which we all know is impossible, while Naveen Andrews plays the down-to-earth and professional Doctor. They fall in love, they realise it’s impossible, and they break up. I’m guessing there really aren’t that many spoilers to be had, and not just because the movie is incredibly predictable.
This is a film that could have been uncovering, accusing, scandalising or thought-provoking. But it is none of those things. It just is. The only way I can describe it is as a “non-film”. Here you go, the film seems to day. Here is Diana and the last two years of her life told from a shallow perspective. It’s two years of flirting and crying. Had the title not been “Diana” I would have guessed it to be a Nicholas Sparks based film.
The first thing the film does is establish how normal and human she is, only to turn around and hammer home how loving and saint-like she is. Instead of exploring why she was perceived this way across the world, the film is happy to just pop the gloria on her head and move on. The main bulk of the film, however, has nothing to do with her work or status as the People’s Princess, but instead is dedicated to her Romeo and Juliet affair with Dr. Khan.
I need to take a breath. I guess the film is provocative in the sense that it provoked me to be annoyed. But! There are a few scenes that hint to what could have been. I am speaking mostly of the scenes that deal with manipulating the press, though these are few and far between. In the scenes were Naomi Watts is not trying to mimic every single head-bob from the archive footage, she plays a decent character. Naveen Andrews is actually very good, and they do have chemistry, I will admit that. But every time they’re lying in bed, smiling or cooing at each other, I become so very aware of what the film is trying to do. Yes, it is cute, and when Dr. Khan hears of her death I almost started choking up a bit, but there just isn’t anything more. Instead of actually choking up, I just swallowed the tiny lump in my throat, and let the cynic in me see it all as cheap Oscar bait.
The biggest sin the film is guilty of is to avoid the royal family at all costs. They are mentioned – it would be hard to do a film about Princess Di without them, though they tried their damndest – but the lack of them is downright cowardly. It also feels disrespectful. For a character who cries out about how dramatic her life has been, it all looks tame from where I’m sitting.
And that’s the major problem with Diana. It’s a non-film. All the individual parts – the actors, the direction, the music, the design, is technically “correct”, but there is just nothing beyond that. It attempts to tell a tragic love-story without actually showing us the tragedy. Princess Di was the most famous woman in the world, but the film about her life will not be remembered.
I’m afraid I have to give it a dice roll 2 for wasted potential.