Creators of biographical films, or “biopics,” are often faced with two overarching circumstances: the vast potential to delve into the world of a public figure, and the possibility of not doing that person justice. Both become more daunting when filmmakers decide to tackle, say, “the most famous woman in the world.” Diana, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s depiction of the former princess of Wales, barely scratches the surface of a life that continues to fascinate people worldwide. The film is a missed opportunity to make the people’s princess more human on an emotional level.
Naomi Watts holds the leading role in this adaptation of Kate Snell’s biography, Diana: Her Last Love, which is an account of the last few years of Diana’s life. After separating from Prince Charles, a lonely and broken Diana begins an affair with Hasnat Khan, a Pakistani heart surgeon. Rendezvous and disguises allow for initial romance, but eventually their relationship becomes torn by Diana’s unavoidable fame and Hasnat’s devotion to his career. Meanwhile Diana balances the roles of a humanitarian, a royal family member, a mother and a celebrity.
Watts captures Diana’s speech and mannerisms remarkably well, but comes across as a less mysterious, ‘dumb blonde’ version of the real princess. At times, this lightness works — these scenes confirm that even princesses wear sweatpants and eat canned goods. The cheesy dialogue written for her and Hasnat, played by Naveen Andrews, is much less welcome. Even within the walls of her private home, Diana speaks like a rehearsed royal and Hasnat responds with poem quotations and life philosophies. The beginning of this relationship is uncomfortable overall and the chemistry between the characters is non-existent. The plot itself is limited by the facts: the real-life Diana and Hasnat made an unlikely pair in the first place. Chemistry does improve as the relationship progresses, but the plot could use one less rehashing of the same fight.
During these years, Diana, who had become a paparazzi magnet, lived in solitude. The camera shots capture these circumstances quite well. Neither Watts nor the script written for her seems to express the loneliness Diana would have actually felt in these situations. The audience sees one humanitarian effort and one shot of William and Harry, but otherwise this Princess Diana has a one-track mind: her love affair. The film is missing elements of the last years of her life that would have created a more complex, accurate and complete portrayal.
Our generation is probably the first to have no memory of Princess Diana, but a royal wedding and baby have sparked new interest in the royal family. Whether you are familiar with her or not, don’t let Diana paint the entire picture for you. Although few know how Diana truly felt and acted, it is unlikely that this representation is accurate. The character is unrealistically shallow, formal and simple, not just for a royal, but for any human being.