Review by © Jane Freebury
It can take an outsider to reveal what we cannot see for ourselves. So the news that German film director Oliver Hirschbiegel was making a film about the people’s princess, weak link in the British royal chain, sounded more than promising. That Hirschbiegel had succeeded with other material best left alone—the last days of the Hitler in Downfall—boded well. It was also encouraging that Naomi Watts, a mix of vulnerability and steel, would be in the lead.
The last days of an icon have a certain fascination. What was Hitler doing holed up in his bunker as the Allies closed in, what was Kurt Cobain doing before he apparently shot himself, and what was Princess Diana up to in the two years before she died? The events here are based on a book by Kate Snell, Diana – Her Last Love, about her relationship with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, relation of the cricketer politician Imran. In this post 9/11 world it’s fascinating to wonder what we would have made of a British princess married to a Muslim.
Simply calling the film Diana is confirmation she needs no introduction. The princess was a phenomenon, a celebrity superstar whose appeal had global reach, and I don’t think commentators have really got to the bottom of it yet, not even Camille Paglia. This film reveals little new and also fails, I think, to give Diana her due.
Inevitably, Hirschbiegel’s film critiques the royals. It leaves the terrible probably erroneous impression that Diana had access to her sons only every five weeks. Stripped of her honorific, she was still trapped in the gilded cage of Kensington Palace. Who wouldn’t smuggle a boyfriend in under a blanket in the back of the car? Outside the gates the media scrum waited, yet the film shows that she had considerable responsibility for attracting the swarms of paparazzi that stalked her.
It was around the time of the sensational revelatory television interview that precipitated her divorce from Charles, that Diana fell for Khan, played here by Naveen Andrews. Doctor, can you mend a broken heart? She was in her mid-thirties, but one-on-one here she is portrayed as a blank slate, a breathy ingenue keen to do homework on Khan’s interests rather than introduce him to some of her own.
It is hard to credit there wasn’t more to her than we see here, the vivacious young woman who went to lunch with Clive James, stood up to ‘the firm’, and gave tender comfort to AIDS sufferers.
This bland and well-intentioned film has got it badly wrong. Hirschbiegel says the British are not yet over their trauma regarding Diana. No, actually he hasn’t given us new insight into her character and what she came to mean for people, just more fuel for the gossip mongers.
In a capsule: Sympathetic and well-intentioned, but it reveals little that is new, fails to give Diana her due, and there’s little insight into the phenomenon she became.