I am shocked. Not by how Oliver Hirschbiegel’s ‘Diana’ portrays the late Princess of Wales in the final two years of her life, but by just how much vitriol that this seemingly innocuous biopic attracts.
Killer Movie Reviews has dismissed ‘Diana’ as “a vapid, banal and superficial exercise in cheap voyeurism.”
"I hesitate to use the term ‘car crash cinema'”, writes Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian, “but the awful truth is that, 16 years after that terrible day in 1997, she has died another awful death."
"She looks, sounds and acts nothing like the Princess of Wales," exclaims Daily Mirror’s David Edwards. "Wesley Snipes in a blonde wig would be more convincing."
I really cannot fathom the amount of scorn that has been heaped on what is a respectful, albeit a bit anti-climatic, film that depicts “the most famous woman in the world” at her most vulnerable.
‘Diana’ stars Naomi Watts as Princess Diana and Naveen Andrews as Pakistani heart surgeon and lover Dr. Hasnat Khan.
The film almost exclusively centres on their star-crossed romance, and subsequently becomes a romantic comedy – complete with almost juvenile antics like sneaking Khan pass the royal guards in a car – but you know it will all end in tears.
The complications of a relationship between a painfully famous person and a very private man soon dominate the picture, and become the theme.
The most cutting of criticism seems to come entirely from British, and occasionally Australian, critics. One has to be reminded that Naomi Watts is British-Australian, and has a very royal role to fulfill in this film.
The British absolutely adore Princess Di, and it has to be mentioned that this adoration is especially lavished after her tragic death.
Playing the legendary Diana to a British audience is tricky to say the least, and it is little wonder that the performance is met with almost passionate hostility.
Our beloved Princess would never behave like this! She’d never say this! The critics would cry with a stiff upper lip. Princess Diana has been deified, and occupies a special place in everyone’s heart. Everyone who is an English person, or at least from a country that is a member of the Commonwealth.
Perhaps the disdain with the film is not so subtly aimed at German director Oliver Hirschbiegel – known for his superb portrayal of Adolf Hitler’s remaining days in his bunker as the Third Reich rapidly crumbles in ‘Downfall’. I could almost imagine a venerable Briton remarking, “Who does this fellow think he is, trying to tell us who Princess Diana really was?”
Sure there are a few issues, and the treatment of the inevitable tragedy in the end falls a little flat, but to be fixated on accuracy, historically or otherwise, would be quite missing the point of ‘Diana’.
Hirschbiegel does take a few creative liberties to convey that the most famous woman in the world is also the loneliest, and maybe also a rather manipulative one.
She is seen using the paparazzi to send a message, either to the world press about her humanitarian efforts, or to make her lover jealous when he decides they cannot be together.
I was quite surprised that Dodi Al-Fayed, who perished with the Princess in that infamous accident, is almost reduced to a cameo appearance in the film. But the emphasis of this film is very clearly on the love shared between the “Queen of Hearts” and Dr. Hasnat Khan, and the impossibility that they could ever live happily ever after.
Joining the voices in accusing ‘Diana’ to be overly simplistic and omitting certain critical details, which this film is most guilty of, is easy.
But in doing so you’d be doing the same thing, focusing on what it doesn’t pretend to be and overlooking what it really tries to do – an insight into a very private moment of the Princess’s very public life; a royal who is very often misrepresented and misunderstood.