Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews
Running Time: 113 mins
Release Date: September 20
Naomi Watts’ tetchiness about her latest project was clearly evident on a recent BBC interview which she brought to an abrupt end. The actress had just been asked an innocuous question about whether or not they had been given permission to film outside Kensington Palace when she decided to pull the plug. Whatever the reasoning behind her actions, they served only to raise a red flag on this offering from Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel.
Diana tells the story of the brief yet emotionally-charged relationship between the late Diana Spencer (Naomi Watts) and Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), a Pakistani heart surgeon. And it’s all pretty straightforward. They meet by chance at the hospital where Khan works. Diana is smitten and after making a return visit, invites him around to hers. She prepares a simple pasta dish which tuns out to be unpalatable, so they order in Burger King instead and drink wine as he smokes cigarettes. A secret relationship develops to the extent that Diana makes a trip to Pakistan to meet Khan’s extended family. But her fame puts a strain on things and the two-year relationship comes to n end. Soon after, Diana strikes up a new relationship with Dodi Fayed. Then she dies.
Diana Spencer’s name is synonymous with intrigue, but there is little of that here. Hirschbiegel claims he made Diana because he always wanted to do a love story, and that Spencer was an extraordinary, opinionated woman who would make for the perfect subject. However, she often comes across as a few cards short of the full deck here. Hirschbiegel’s Diana is a lonely princess who is naive and clumsy – although she is also portrayed as loyal and good-hearted. Watts looks like she is trying to properly get into the skin of her character, and she never quite manages it. Admittedly the script does her few favours – at one stage Diana turns to Khan and challenges him with the zinger of a line: ‘Last one back to the car is a squashed tomato’.
Watts’ co-star Andrews makes a decent fist of his portrayal of Khan, who comes across as a likeable chap. Yet since the film’s release the notoriously media-shy doctor has dismissed claims by a producer that the project had his ‘tacit approval’, adding that Diana was ‘all based on hypotheses and gossip’. He’s right on the hypotheses angle – there is a strong suggestion throughout that Spencer’s life might have turned out differently had she made alternative choices, and that she may not have met a premature end had her relationship with her ‘true love’ Khan worked out.
Spencer’s relationship with Khan is portrayed as a sliding-doors moment in her life. But she is also cast as a prisoner of circumstance and of her position, which implies that she never really did have a choice. Unfortunately, though, Hirschbiegel steers well clear of anything that might be deemed even remotely controversial, such as her relationship with her sons and ex-husband Charles Mountbatten-Windsor, the other men in her life – there is zero insight offered into her relationship with Dodi Fayed apart from an insinuation that she was on the rebound – and the controversial circumstances surrounding her death in 1997.
Diana amounts to little more than a fairytale, as fanciful as the princess it portrays. No wonder Watts appears so keen to wash her hands of of it.