Oliver Hirschbiegel’s controversial new film charts the last two years of Princess Diana’s life. Based on the book, ‘Diana: Her Last Love’, by Kate Snell this interpretation focuses upon Diana’s love affair with Pakistani heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), suggesting her final relationship with Dodi Fayed (Cas Anvar) was little more than a tactic to make the doctor jealous.

Hirschbiegel’s film is bookended with comparatively probing scenes – Diana’s loneliness at the film’s outset is palpable, while escalating press intrusion at it’s close is tense and disturbing – yet the lion’s share of the film is dedicated to a straightforward love story about a famous woman and a very private man. It’s a romantic thread with a lightness of touch worthy of any Hollywood rom-com. But this is a drama.
Naomi Watts Diana

That the dialogue is invented and the events highly speculative could be forgiven if these seemed remotely credible. Regardless of the level of fact, Diana’s midnight flee through a deserted London park, nightly excursions in a long brown wig and trips to the seaside feel flimsy and entirely unrealistic.

Hirschbiegel’s film goes out of it’s way to make the Princess seem normal – we see her eating beans on toasting and preparing a microwave meal – but it’s all a little too much. Diana’s first date with Khan is particularly cringeworthy as they watch football at Kensington Palace and she asks ‘who are the ones in blue?’ before the pair burst into peels of laughter. The screenplay from Stephen Jeffreys is weak throughout, packed with cheesy dialogue and silly scenarios, turning Diana into a giddy stalker whose dramatic tendencies dominate her relationship with men. Khan, meanwhile, is presented as a self-centred, unappealing male lead whose suggested complexities remain unexplored by Jeffreys’ script. As the film reaches its climax, Khan’s perspective as the intensely private  individual begins to feel like the more interesting one, yet if any of what the film has to say is based on fact, its release must be torturous for the real life doctor.

As Diana, Naomi Watts’ performance is a sketchy one at best. Diana’s mannerisms – the head tilt and the coy, one sided smile – are all there but, instead of reminding us of the real Princess, feel forced and increasingly fake. Watts’ version of Diana’s tricky Panorama interview with Martin Bashir is another risky move that doesn’t quite pay off, feeling more like a flimsy impersonation than adding valuable insight into Diana’s life.

“Watts’ version of Diana’s tricky Panorama interview with Martin Bashir is a risky move that doesn’t quite pay off”

Meanwhile, Diana’s charity work is thrown in for good measure but adds little depth to this dramatised version of the Princess. Spontaneous acts of kindness – letting a blind man touch her face in a crowded Italian street or stopping her car to challenge a violent man – fail to feel sincere. Her declaration, ‘I want to help people,’ spluttered out in frustration at right-hand-man Patrick Jephson comes over as trite and corny.

If the central romance in Diana was the basis of a comedy-drama about a fictional celebrity it might not be so bad, but Hirschbeigel’s film is plagued by the fierce reality of its central character. While Jeffrey’s script gives us but brief insight into Diana’s ability to manipulate, the strains of press intrusion and the breakdown of a flawed marriage, it just doesn’t feel meaty enough.

And here lies the problem. Diana is caught between a rock and a hard place. A more probing analysis of Diana’s last days might have amped up the controversy but this superficial attempt has little to offer. Ultimately Hirschbeigel gives us a frivolous, romantic film about very tragic events.

VERDICT:   ✭ ✭ ✩ ✩ ✩    2/5

For more information, see the official website

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