During the last two years of her life, Princess Diana (Naomi Watts) embarks on a final rite of passage: a secret love affair with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews) - which doesn't remain secret.
Review by Louise Keller:
I inwardly cringed through most of this soppy film that depicts the love affair between Diana and her heart surgeon lover. The backdrop is of well documented tabloid moments re-enacted in an embarrassing mix of fluffy soap opera and saintly portrait of a desperately lonely woman living in an unreal existence. Stephen Jeffreys's woeful adaptation of Kate Snel's book Diana: Her Last Love is mostly to blame and while Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel does his best to keep the material together, it is blatantly impossible for any credible emotion or characterisation to filter through the syrup.
It is voyeuristic to be sure, and those who lapped up the gossip and sensationalism through the 90s during the Diana, Charles, Camilla and Dodi years may sit bug-eyed, soaking up the dross. The horror Wills and Harry may feel is yet another issue. What Dr Khan is thinking is imaginable. My condolences however, go to Naomi Watts, who is a terrific actress and must bitterly regret taking on the title role of the high profile royal at her prime.
The film begins in Paris before the tragic circumstances with which the world is so familiar in which Diana was killed in a car crash with speeding paparazzi in pursuit. The story begins in earnest in flashback two years earlier at a London hospital, concentrating on Diana's chance meeting with Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), the heart surgeon who loves football, jazz and above all, saving lives. The fact that he does not treat her like a princess appears to be one of the main appeals, although there is a telling line later on in the film, when Diana tells him 'I'm a princess and I get what I want'. She is the pursuer - actively chasing him, inviting him for supper at the Palace, where the wine cellar never runs dry and the relationship develops - always on her terms.
Unfortunately, so much of the material that defines the life of Diana, Princess of Wales plays out like a soap opera. 'There were three of us in this marriage,' practised in front of a mirror and then delivered to the world in a BBC interview; the landmines awareness drive; the trip to Australia to deliver the key note speech for the Victor Chang foundation, cavorting on a luxury cruiser with Dodi, the final dinner at the Paris Ritz and the CTT footage in the lift ...
The late night meetings in dark wig and comings and goings from Kensington Palace are interesting, if melodramatic with little chance of any real chemistry between the two central characters or anything other than obsession and stalker-like behaviour by Diana. This is a big problem for a film that aspires to be a love story with a protagonist whose behaviour is brattish.
The film dallies with Diana's growing humanitarian passion that results from Khan's encouragement and her meeting with his Pakistani family, but the big ticket item is that Khan is at the crossroads and the princess who always gets what she wants, does not. His stated love for Diana is at odds with his commitment to his profession. The overwhelming legacy the film leaves is one of a self-obsessed manipulator, who uses the media as a play thing, using Dodi Fayed (Cas Anvar) to make Khan jealous. This does not endear us to Diana.
While the filmmakers clearly have gone to great lengths to be faithful to the known facts surrounding the affair between Diana and Khan, this is a film that could only resonate with a different script. As it is, the film plays out like sensationalism that is so contrived and unsensational that it is boring.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Whether by design or by the sheer accumulation of her actions, Diana (Naomi Watts) comes across as a tragic victim figure in Oliver Hirchbiegel's film of Stephen Jeffreys' screenplay adapted from Kate Snell's book ... does this creative hierarchy make the film third hand? Fourth hand if you add the layer of character interpretation by Watts of a figure so well known that she becomes unknown. Her public face isn't her private face, and the film tries to show us that.
Yet there is an absence of the feelings that Diana's story generated in real life, and should generate when concentrated into two years of her life in two hours on screen. I think one of the main reasons for that is the film's total focus on Diana. I can recall only one scene in which she isn't present physically - albeit she is very much the subject of it. It's short and unimportant to the film, showing Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews) smoking nervously in the street and stamping out the butt with his shoe.
The focus on Diana becomes almost claustrophobic in its intensity; we stay within her world so intently that we lose perspective. This may well be intentional, but it doesn't work as intended - it doesn't deepen our understanding of her as much as propel our ennui. If it were not the story of a tragic, troubled, divorced and tragically killed Princess, it would not sustain at all.
The media and the Royals get short shrift as to be expected, but not in any satisfying way. We feel we are obliged to be interested but the skimpy treatment is all surface gloss, no substance. It's like the burger Hasnat chomps on; quickly forgotten.
The first act is a series of establishment scenes which ultimately dull our senses; we know so much about her circumstances but remember her with a wisp of nostalgic ghostliness which the visuals of cinema render into definite form. It's too harsh and too exact, too banal. It allows boredom to take root, disengaging us.
Hirschbiegel - a talented filmmaker - perhaps senses this problem; at the very beginning, he doesn't show us her face, just follows her from behind, as if to get us used to the deception and to delay releasing the reality that it isn't Diana but an actress who cannot possibly recreate her. Watts tries valiantly, though.
There are also several good things; Juliet Stevenson as Sonia, her loyal and caring friend; Geraldine James as Oonagh, another close friend and therapist; sparkling moments and short, humorous passages of dialogue or circumstance, and a wonderful veracity to the design and locations. In the end, though, it's the bookend scenes of Diana in her final minutes that provide the swell of emotion - all by itself, as if the film was hardly needed to act as the platform.
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CAST: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Geraldine James, Charles Edwards, Daniel Pirrie, Cas Anvar, Juliet Stevenson, Art Malik
PRODUCER: Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae
DIRECTOR: Oliver Hirchbiegel
SCRIPT: Stephen Jeffreys (book by Kate Snell)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Rainer Klausman
EDITOR: Hans Funck
MUSIC: Keefus Ciancia, David Holmes
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kave Quinn
RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Becker Film Group
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 10, 2013
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.