Film Review: Diana (2013)

“He doesn’t treat me like a princess”

There was a frisson of excitement in putting on the DVD of Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana in the knowledge that we were about to watch something that many had declared ‘so bad it is good’, but even I couldn’t have expected just how true that sentiment would turn out in what has to be one of the most hilariously misjudged films of recent years. One now understands a little better why multi-Oscar nominee Naomi Watts, who takes on the eponymous role, had difficulties on the press tour for the film (though not necessarily why she took on the part in the first place).

Written by Stephen Jeffreys and based on an unofficial biography by Kate Snells, it follows the late Princess of Wales in the last two years of her life and claims that an affair with British-Pakistani surgeon Hasnat Khan blossomed into the real love of her life. But rather than try to tell a story with fleshed-out characters, the film is wedded to a misguided sense of loyalty to Diana, using actual newspaper headlines and speeches as hooks, presumably as a way of trying to stay true to her legacy but falling back on cheesy montages and execrable dialogue for the vast majority of the time as any two-bit biopic has to.

So we’re forced to endure the anodyne meanderings (“dramatic, dramatic, my whole life has been dramatic”) of an over-privileged woman with little examination of her complicity with the media circus around her, discover the transformative powers of a brown wig, and witness the painful attempts to display the burning passion that apparently existed between her and Khan. So strong was the initial chemistry, we’re led to believe, that she couldn’t resist eye-flirting with him even as a friend lay critically ill in a hospital bed in the next room. 

As the surgeon, Naveen Andrews is lumbered with some of the worst lines in history like “a heart can’t actually be broken” and “you don’t perform the operation, the operation performs you” and is helpless in the face of a yawning void of characterisation. By the time he starts quoting Persian poetry “love is a garden – if you can’t smell the fragrance, don’t come into the garden of love” and is introducing Diana to jazz, you’re with Prince Philip in sicing the Secret Services on the pair of them. 

What is doubly painful is the quality of the cast around the leads, wasted on perfunctory ciphers in place of supporting characters. Whether Geraldine James’ cliché-ridden acupuncturist, Charles Edwards’ greyly anaemic Patrick Jephson, Douglas Hodge’s barely-there Paul Burrell or Juliet Stevenson’s corny friend, it hard to see how the project attracted, and kept actors of this calibre and it has to be said none of them emerge with any dignity. Truly a terrible piece of film-making and pleasingly if naughtily, something that truly ends up being so bad it is brilliant. 


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