Diana - Blu-ray Review

'Watts’ portrayal fluctuates wildly between an upper-class Bridget Jones and the female second coming of Jesus Christ.'

Clearly hoping to combine the ability of Stephen Frears’ The Queen to effectively dramatise relatively recent British history with Meryl Streep’s striking and uncanny turn as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, director Oliver Hirschbiegel spectacularly achieves neither in Diana, a plodding and unengaging affair that consistently rings false.

Hirschbiegel’s film has a cheap and tacky veneer usually found in made-for-TV biopics or sub par Channel 5 dramas, with the narrative taking place in a second rate imitation of the fictional Britain usually reserved for saccharine Richard Curtis comedies. The script is a mixture of blunt, amateurish characterisation - “I want to help people” Diana (Naomi Watts) despairs when told she has an engagement to launch a nuclear submarine, as if it’s some kind of huge revelation about the princess’ personality - and painfully clich├ęd romantic fluff straight out of the Mills & Boon writers’ manual.

Watts as Diana convinces in neither appearance nor mannerisms, leaving the centre of the film messily incomplete. Watts’ portrayal fluctuates wildly between an upper-class Bridget Jones and the female second coming of Jesus Christ. So we have vacuous scenes of the princess and her gal pal Sonia (Juliet Stevenson) acquainting themselves with jazz music in order to impress Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews) early on in their relationship; as well as overblown and pretentious sequences including Diana guiding an elderly blind man’s hand to touch her face during a visit to Italy, moving him to tears of joy. Never do we get a sense of what the real Diana might have been like.

This is undoubtedly Hirschbiegel’s biggest mistake: whilst clearly a Diana fan himself, not once does he succeed in swaying us to the same opinion. Everything here is presented without flair or passion. Diana’s relationship with Hasnat plods along like something out of a soap opera, with occasional dips into well-trodden rom-com territory (a montage of the couple messing about on a day trip to the coast, set to French jazz, feels particularly ill-judged). Any potential tension from the fact that Diana is still married to Prince Charles during the affair is neutralised as Charles is only occasionally mentioned and never seen. Hirschbiegel’s secondary focus - that of Diana’s humanitarian work, particularly against landmines - ends up frequently feeling like an afterthought, being crassly pushed to the sidelines and offering nothing new or interesting.

Too often, the director’s handling of the princess’ life simply lacks credibility. We see, for example, Diana don a brunette wig for a date with Hasnat in order to sneak unnoticed into jazz club Ronnie Scott’s. It’s a sequence apparently based on a real event, but Hirschbiegel’s cheap rom-com-like execution means you just won’t care whether this actually happened or not: scenes such as this simply fall apart when presented here as elements of a relatable, believable narrative.

In the end, Hirschbiegel’s film ends up as two hours of tedium that fail to justify their existence. No matter what your opinion of Diana as a person, Diana the film is without doubt an unfitting biopic for such an influential figure in 20th Century British history.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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