Sixteen years on and it appears that the moral statute of limitations on the life, times and death of Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, is well and truly up. Quite frankly I’m surprised it has taken this long for a major film depicting any aspect of her life to be made, but if the quality of Diana is anything to go by, it should be another sixteen years before a similar feat is attempted again. The film concentrates on the romantic relationship between Diana and Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, a relationship famously shrouded in mystery and supposedly ended by Khan’s unwillingness to hand his life over to the public. That short sentence sums up just about everything that is accepted as fact on the matter.
Unfortunately, nobody told the makers of this film that that was the case. Instead, we are forced to endure nearly two hours of outrageous speculation and, at times, downright farce as the life of one of the most intriguing and enigmatic figures of the last hundred years is reduced to a conveyer belt of Carrie Bradshaw-esque sequences that are so awkward and unbelievable I shudder having to even recall them. These involve Diana breaking in to Khan’s apartment and proceeding to wash his dirty dishes, escaping the eyes of the paparazzi by scaling a garden fence in (not so) comic fashion, and perhaps most cringeworthy of all, telephoning Khan’s place of work under the impressionistic guise of a Northern woman named Rita. The film’s intentional characterisation of Diana is to make her, quite frankly, seem like a psychopathic, Fatal Attraction style stalker who is so obsessed with her lover that she only appears to phone her children once a month and spends the rest of the time attempting to arrange ways for her and Khan to be together, most of which he does not wish for. Please do not think that I have turned against Diana because it depicts the Princess as something less than England’s rose and the queen of hearts, I am more than willing to accept that the woman behind the media creation probably was incredibly different to how the world wants to regard her. I do not have a problem with somebody making a film that attempts to portray a side of Diana that is less known or less palatable, but I do have a problem with somebody making a film that looks like it belongs in the afternoon slot of a cable television movie channel, has dialogue that sounds like it has been lifted directly from a series of saccharine greetings cards, and has the production values of a second rate soap opera from the nineties.
To the film’s stars, who I can only assume are congregating in a media free nuclear bunker as we speak. What baffles me more than anything is the decision by both Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews to agree to participate in the film in the first place. Oscar nominated only last year, Watts appears to me to be a proper actress who makes proper films (Mulholland Dr., 21 Grams etc.) and Andrews has shown his worth in pictures like The English Patient. The only reason I can think of for their involvement is that there must have initially been a horribly misguided sense that the film would follow in the tradition of The Queen and The King’s Speech in both their dramatic tone and award winning success. Watts, and there is no way of sugar coating this, is simply terrible. She seems to have been so preoccupied with getting the exact angle of Diana’s head tilt right that remembering to act convincingly came as an afterthought. Her attempt to mimic the late Princess’s voice fails miserably and throughout the film she bears an unsettling resemblance to Anthea Turner that only helped to further distance the picture from any form of reality. Naveen Andrews, whilst being generally underwhelming, does the best that he can with one of the worst scripts I have had to endure for a long time, but he is perhaps helped and guarded by the fact that we have little to no idea of what Hasnat Khan was like, the opposite of what Watts had to contend with.
Within the one hundred and thirteen turgid minutes of Diana‘s running time, one moderately chilling moment occurs. It is 4:17am on August the 31st 1997, and a scene ensues in which a London street is shown to slowly come alive, one bedroom window at a time, as the news of Diana’s death begins to spread throughout the country. It is likely that this scene feels different to the rest because it relays an atmosphere and reaction to which I can personally attest, waking up early as a seven year old and gradually figuring out why exactly it was that none of my usual cartoons were being aired on the television. It also made me realise that this moment was indicative of the sort of film about Diana that I would want to watch. The lasting images of those weeks in 1997 are those of the reactions of the devastated public, this is part of what makes The Queen such a powerful film, and I am sure that a picture devoted to the more mainstream parts of the Princess’s life, with material placed in the right hands, would produce something worth watching.
Rather than that, what we are given in Diana is a film based in such rumour and hypothesis that what is intended to be a revelatory and sensational story becomes an exercise in the testing of one’s patience, and at times, the testing of one’s intelligence. It is without a doubt the worst film I have seen this year, and that includes any of the creations I have been obligated to endure from IMDB’s bottom one hundred list for my Second Chance Saloon project. Good luck to the people who next attempt to make a motion picture about the Princess of Wales, at least they will have a blue print for exactly how not to go about it.