Review: Diana (A Chance to Cry With Lady Di)

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It’s been nearly two decades since the untimely, paparazzi influenced death of Princess Diana, and yet her presence and public power isn’t so far from memory. Much like Stephen Frear’s The Queen, one can’t help feeling uncomfortable about the timing of this regal biopic, though a better time is hard to foresee. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s adaptation of Kate Snell’s book “Diana: Her Last Love” focuses on Diana’s last two years, her divorce from Prince Charles and romance with Heart Surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). At once a romantic demystification of the privileges of the palace and a drama that lets you cry with Lady Di, Diana is a pageant, a fashion show, a fantasy about a real woman, and a really high end Movie of the Week—despite the film’s weaknesses, fans of the late Princess have lots to love here.

Diana (Naomi Watts) has a believable but tentative attraction to Hasnat Khan, a doctor with a strong personality who’s sensibly hesitant to ask the nation’s next queen out for dinner (she takes the romantic lead, somewhat undermining her demure public image). The paparazzi dog “The Most Famous Woman on Earth,” so attention and the necessary secrecy with which the two live out their romance predictably wears them down. Once the affair sees its painful end, Diana begins alerting the international press of her gallivanting with Dodi Fayad (Cas Anvar), a fact the film treats as Diana’s retribution for the breakup. Naturally major touchstones are represented: Diana’s walk through a minefield as a humanitarian gesture to end landmine production, her fashion auction for AIDS research, and the shopping trip that ended with dehumanizing paparazzi assaults are sympathetically depicted. Her most famous work with Mother Teresa, for some reason, was not included.

Like Hirschbiegel’s The Tourist, Diana is busting with glamor and star power, but bottoms out in both dialogue and story departments. The film’s major weaknesses are to be expected (e.g. the secret lovers quarrel about privacy repeatedly). The point of the film is to humanize the late royal but instead Diana retreads known (and rumored) tidbits that can only reaffirm her reputation; post-morten reveals always feel fishy. In the end, the brilliantly attired “People’s Princess” has never seemed more like a highly-public Barbie with good intentions. But Watts is the real reason to see Diana. Her performance is more impression than impersonation, and she seems to channels Di with the Lady’s trademark smirk and head tilt—mannerisms you see in her sons today. You know going in that any meaningful depiction of the Queen of Hearts is impossible—what we verifiably know of her can’t answer any lingering questions about who she was now that she’s passed—but we can get some catharsis if we’re still inclined. It’s not a lot but for many viewers it could be quite enough.

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