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‘Diana’: a royal failure of a biographical movie
A two-star review of “Diana,” a pale film reflection of a troubled royal life.
Seattle Times movie critic
‘Diana,’ with Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Geraldine James, Charles Edwards, Juliet Stevenson. Directed by Oliver Hirshbiegel, from a screenplay by Stephen Jeffreys. 112 minutes. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, some sensuality and smoking. Several theaters.
Oliver Hirshbiegel’s “Diana” is all about surfaces. The camera glides across the plush rugs in the Kensington Palace apartment of the former Princess of Wales (played by Naomi Watts), breathlessly shows us her beautifully appointed sitting room (every throw pillow just so), the perfectly blending soft colors of the décor, the casual elegance of her clothing, the flawless light at her dressing table as she applies mascara. Everything looks lovely, and remote.
You wonder why Hirshbiegel (“Das Experiment,” “Downfall”) wanted to take on this high-risk project: a story with an all-too-familiar ending (the young and beautiful Diana, as the world knows without reminding, died in a Paris car crash in 1997) and a middle already told far too many times. Countless biographies remind us that Diana was unhappy in her marriage to Prince Charles; that she struggled to fit in with the royal family; that she was generous in her charitable work; that she hoped one day to live happily-ever-after, but never did. “Diana” tells us all of these things again, without shining any new light on them, and operating under uncomfortable constraints. Though we’re reminded that she’s a loving mother, we only see her sons once (and at a distance; the rest of the royal family is invisible). For that matter, we rarely see Diana with anyone but her paid staff and her romantic partner: the surgeon Haznat Khan (Naveen Andrews), who loves her but is uneasy with what being the princess of Wales’ consort implies.
Watts, who doesn’t much resemble Diana, makes a valiant effort, and nicely captures her subject’s whispery murmur, doe-eyed upward gaze and sweetly serene smile. But she’s trapped in a soap-opera movie, in which she’s reduced to screaming in the street for Haznat’s attention, and has to deliver lines like, “I’m a princess, and I get what I want.”
The movie both begins and ends with Diana’s final evening in Paris, and we see her theatrically pausing before leaving her hotel suite, as if she might just stay in after all. It’s a tragedy that she didn’t; and a pity that her life is reduced to such a forgettable movie.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org