From 2012 onwards, before developing this blog, I wrote a multitude of reviews on the website Letterboxd. In this irregular series called From the Vault, I’m going to haul these earlier reviews out of mothballs and re-purpose them here.
This one is from February 20th, 2015…
My Mom loved Princess Diana. The day she died, she came into my room at 5.30am in shock and horror telling my slightly uninterested, very sleepy fifteen year old self she had been killed like we’d lost a member of the family.
That’s what the press labelled ‘Queen of Hearts’ meant to the millions of Britons who still wanted to romanticise the British Royal Family in an age when they were fast becoming an anachronistic relic; at the same time she was also enormously divisive, with just as many people who saw her as an opportunistic, insincere bed-hopper who courted the press on trips to sub-Saharan Africa as a humanitarian to remain beloved when her husband had turned his back on her. Oliver Hirschbergel’s biopic could have been an opportunity to rip into the guts of that, explore the ‘people’s Princess’ with the candour many have shied away from since her tragic demise.
Diana, sadly, turns out to be an enormously tedious character study which never once has the balls to go beyond its glossed-up TV movie roots.
For a start, it’s entirely on the side of Diana herself as a misunderstood ‘woman of the people’, that despite her breeding & aristocratic roots that saw her matched up barely out of her teens to the older Prince Charles, she never really wanted the power and prestige of being Queen of England but instead wanted to be the Queen everyone loved, everyone believed; indeed Hirschbergel has his extras quite often turning their heads & gasping when Naomi Watts’ princess walks down a corridor or down a street, in awe of a woman who carried with her such a near magical aura.
It’s a romanticised view of the truth in, oddly enough, a film that feels about as romantic and passionate as a sack of dried potatoes. It attempts to carry its exploration of Diana as a woman desperate to be free while holding onto her own shackles, not through the far more interesting political scope of her relationship with the Royal Family, but rather the Pakistani surgeon, Dr Hasnat Khan, she embarks upon a lovelorn affair with despite press intrusion & how it conflicts with her desire not to put her absent children through the pain of divorce.
Naveen Andrews’ Hasnat is painted as a dashing life saver, spouting cod-philosophy on the one hand while chomping hamburgers on the other. No one can deny Andrews & especially, in the signature role, Watts give their characters a damn good go, but God almighty are they working from a stinker of a script. Stephen Jeffreys screenplay must surely rank as one of the worst in modern cinema, with dialogue that you wouldn’t put through a blender let alone say – it’s not even so bad it’s good either, it’s just bad. Painfully so, often.
Hirschbergel seems oblivious, seems convinced as he has Diana & Hasnat frolicking on beaches set to pretentious French tunes or endless embarrassing love scenes that this is all quite profound, all quite elegant and classy when in truth it’s about as ‘flat’ as the reality Hasnat claims life is like when he’s not in the middle of an operation. The observation of drying paint would, at times, have made a better experience.
If you’ve heard Diana is horrendous and terrifyingly bad, stop right there – it’s not. Oliver Hirschbergel does a massive amount wrong with his sometimes tacky, pretentious and TV movie level direction, working from a script that’s about as tortured & hackneyed in terms of dialogue as you’re likely ever to come across, but to say its unwatchably bad almost does the piece a service it doesn’t deserve. People might seek it out as a cult curio if that’s the case, looking to find the hidden gems inside. Fact is though, there *are* no hidden gems.
It’s just badly written, poorly directed, played by actors who can’t rise above the material and ultimately tells you nothing of illumination about who Princess Diana was that you didn’t already know. It’ll do insomniacs good, but nobody else.