Background subjects get the limelight in Diana
Starring Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews. Rated PG.
Few faces of the 20th century are more iconic than that of Diana, Princess of Wales. So it took chutzpah for Naomi Watts to take on the cocked head and tentative smile we knew so well. Her thoughtful impersonation guarantees that Diana, which covers the two years before her 1997 death, isn’t nearly as horrible as British reviews have indicated. Still, disappointment was also certain, given that this was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, whose powerful Downfall detailed the 1945 finish of another, more malignant icon.
Working from an occasionally witty, mostly pedestrian script by The Libertine’s Stephen Jeffreys, and “inspired by” Kate Snell’s Diana: Her Last Love, Hirschbiegel bookends the tale with her fateful Paris night out, depicting her fling with a barely present Dodi Fayed as a last-ditch attempt to get over the man who had recently dumped her. He was a high-born Pakistani heart surgeon named Hasnat Khan, here played by The English Patient’s Naveen Andrews. The affair with Hasnat proved hazardous to both and was catnip to the U.K. press, still getting over her separation from Prince Charles and from her sons, grabbed by the Royal Family.
This background is actually more interesting than the leading figures. The Khan depicted is a chain-smoking, fast-food–loving physician who pridefully blusters through most of his scenes. And Watts’s Diana has a much more genteel, Bach-playing persona than the neurotic flibbertigibbet we knew from other reports. The two-hour film’s portrayal of her charity work is convincing, however. Too bad it tacks a flower-strewn coda onto a strong finish, oddly shifting the limelight onto a fellow who never wanted it in the first place.