Mark Reviews Movies



1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Geraldine James, Charles Edwards, Daniel Pirrie, Cas Anvar, Juliet Stevenson

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language, some sensuality and smoking)

Running Time: 1:53

Release Date: 11/1/13

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Review by Mark Dujsik | October 31, 2013

The way Diana shifts the blame for the death of eponymous Princess of Wales is offensive, irresponsible, just plain stupid, or some combination of any or all of those things. It might have been easy to overlook as a piece of controversy-garnering, conspiratorial intrigue if not for the fact that the movie goes to great lengths to paint the late humanitarian, philanthropist, and, at the time of her death, formerly official member of the Royal Family as an unstable and petty woman whose every action is motivated by a need to be loved by someone—anyone—who could look past the drama of her life and accept her for the, well, unstable and petty woman she knows she is.

It's one thing to present a beloved public figure in a less-than-flattering light in an attempt to illuminate the complexity of a life—like any other—with its ups and downs, but Stephen Jeffreys' screenplay somehow finds a way to turn even the most admirable parts of Princess Diana's life into the calculated machinations of one who cannot function on even the most basic levels of human emotion and interaction. This Diana (played by Naomi Watts, who looks like Diana in profile but is too hampered by a muddled script to bring much to the role) must have everything her way and will stop at nothing to ensure that is the case.

The tragedy of her death, Jeffreys suggests, is not in the paparazzi who hounded the woman but that, in her hatred and need for the attention they gave her, her need won in the end. She was not a victim, the movie argues, but a willing accomplice and an unintentional instrument in bringing about the circumstances that led to her untimely death.

We might be more forgiving of such a crazy theory if the movie cared in any way about the relationship between the famous and those who chase them around to sell media of various level of legitimacy, but it does not. It is, in a way, its own form of tabloid biography. There's nothing of particular interest in the story Jeffreys chooses to tell—that of Diana's supposed final love affair with a talented but conflicted heart surgeon—and in focusing on that sort of cheap and sentimental aspect of her life, the movie not only tries to uncover the worst of its subject but also widely ignores the best.

The story begins on the night of Diana's death with an overreliance on long walks, rumblings on the soundtracks, and foreboding shudders and looks from the protagonist, and it then suddenly moves back two years prior. Diana, in near-isolation in her apartment in Kensington Palace, is in the middle of the separation from her husband—the unseen and only heard Prince Charles—and preparing for a televised interview to counter the one he recently gave. Watching it, she throws the remote at the television.

She meets Dr. Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews) while visiting her acupuncturist and convenient-lesson-giver's (Geraldine James) husband in the hospital. She likes him instantly because he doesn't treat her like a princess—like he knows nothing about her troubled life. Theirs becomes a tedious on-off-on-again-off-again-ad-nauseam romance. She loves him, and he loves her but values his privacy. He cannot imagine trying to continue his practice while under the scrutiny of the public eye. This argument between the two continues for over a year as they break up and make up in between learning very little about each other's lives.

Diana's life here is one of almost manic-depressive tendencies. When she and Hasnat are together, she's all smiles and romantic plans for the future, but when they're apart, she's either stalking him, spending days alone in her apartment staring at the phone, or, ultimately, trying to concoct a way to make him jealous. This—not her work to bring attention to the horrors caused landmines (After spending a brief section on her campaign, the movie's odd summation of Diana's life in the coda focuses exclusively on it), her various charitable activities, or her relationship with her children (reduced to a single scene)—is the movie's primary consideration. There's a cynical argument here that just about every effort she made to raise money for various causes is simply a way to impress or help her lover.

It's difficult to believe that Jeffreys and director Oliver Hirschbiegel are intentionally engaging in character assassination. As monumentally misguided as Diana is, the movie seems far too sympathetic—although almost patronizingly so—of its subject for that. By the time this Diana, motivated by trivial spite, accidentally sets in motion the avalanche of publicity that will lead to her death, though, one has to wonder.

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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