Published Oct 31, 2013According to Diana, Oliver Hirschbiegel's (Downfall) interpretation of Princess Diana's (Naomi Watts) life post-Charles, the Princess of Wales was a goofy, impulsive romanticist. Her political faux pas and string of affairs were merely a persistent outcry for the love she ironically felt deprived of, living under the gaze of constant scrutiny and treated with blanket reverence, making the development of balanced, mutually beneficial relationships impossible.
Of course, this is all saccharine, sanitized hokum. This overly twee sentimentalizing and simplification renders the real Diana little more than a narrative contrivance — the sort of archetype perpetuated in similarly structured escapist political fantasies Chasing Liberty or First Daughter.
Here, her story is one of cardboard romance. Separated from Charles, she moons about her opulent abode, having expository discussions about public image with her staff and engages in publicity-driven charity expeditions to distract the media from the melodrama in her personal life. Before any sense of character complexity can be established, she's thrust into a whimsical, idealized romance with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), which is defined simply by this: "He doesn't treat me like a Princess."
Since Charles and both of her sons are completely absent, this romance and its inherent superficiality drive the narrative, which takes the shape of a formulaic rom-com, only devoid of romance or comedy. Diana, wanting to indulge in a conventional romance, attempts "normal" things — all of which are treated with abstract preciousness — like cooking for him, watching sporting events on the couch, surprising him at his place of employment and endlessly spewing faux-romantic twaddle entirely removed from the lexicon of reality.
The conflict, one that's verbalized concisely and repeatedly by the terribly one-note contrivance of Hasnat (he's a heart surgeon that smokes and eats burgers!), is that he's a serious professional and can't have the media interfering with his focus. It's entirely ridiculous and carries absolutely no dramatic weight, but it's reiterated ad nauseam with increasing severity.
Another more interesting roadblock — beyond the glossed over politics about divorcing the Royal Family — is the imposition of Khan's family, wanting him to marry a Pakistani woman, until the Princess shows up and wows them all with her charm and grace. That they're exploiting her celebrity for political favour is hinted at but as with the bland trajectory of this dreadful biopic, is eschewed in favour of easier, broader concepts. Similarly, Diana's charity work — taking photographs with child amputees and speaking out against landmines — is treated tenuously. There are a couple of hints that it's all for show ("did they get a picture of me with the little amputee girl?"), but again, this implication is largely ignored, being too inconvenient and dark for such a succinct, blasé tragedy.
What's more is that her eventual "romance" with Dodi Fayed (Cas Anvar) is presented as a manufactured publicity stunt specifically to make Khan jealous. Though the actual motivations of their relationship are left up to speculation, for obvious reasons, there's something far too concise and convenient about this interpretation, making Diana's pure and unflappable love for the morally righteous heart surgeon reiterate the uncomplicated and overly sentimental manner in which she is portrayed throughout.
This tenuous, exceedingly sheepish handling of material that has the potential to be at least moderately compelling gives Diana a distinct television vibe. Since nothing within this biopic resembles even a modicum of reality, it's neither engaging nor identifiable, playing out as an exaggeratedly dull episode of elaborate human delusion. (eOne)