It was inevitable that I would go and see this film. Diana and I were both the same age, and once we played netball against her team – sharing an orange plate on a freezing but sunny day circa-1970-something. She struck me as ‘nice’ unlike some of the other snooty girls we played against. We were also the same height, which gave us a mutual understanding – ‘tall girl’ jokes made by short boys. Being born the same year made us contemporaries and I can’t help but comment on how many more years I have lived (16). I know this, not because I am adept at numbers, but because my daughter was just a few weeks old when Diana died, and she is now sixteen. So, like many, I came to this film with my own personal ‘baggage’.
From the first moment we sight Diana, played by Naomi Watts, the comparisons begin. My beef is – and I’d have thought it crucial, is that the producers should have employed an actress with the stature and ‘luminescence’ that Diana truly had. We didn’t need a body double – we needed an actor that could capture the essence of Diana and make us believe it WAS Diana. Watts makes a valiant effort but falls short – quite literally. Mimicry does not great acting make – and this is why this film does not work. You could practically hear director Oliver Hirschbiegel urging the petite Naomi to “walk tall damn you!” I wouldn’t have thought it rocket science to work out that a film about Diana really needed someone special to play her. Alas! The producer had “more money than mind” as I like to say.
Which brings me to my next beef. Why didn’t they just call the film ‘Diana and Hasnat?’ The first thirty-four odd years of Diana’s life are ignored – unimportant things like childhood, marriage, the births of Wills and Harry, the divorce…. No, all we get is the romance of Diana and the heart surgeon. As I was sitting in the cinema quaffing my choc top, I thought “I don’t have a heart problem and I didn’t pay good money to see a squashy-nosed doctor.”
Doc Hasnat is played by Anglo-Indian actor Naveen Andrews. The screen chemistry between Andrews and Watts could be likened to a blind date I once had in the 80s. (About as much sizzle as a limp, defrosted sausage on an unlit barbeque.) Let me share with you a morsel of the priceless dialogue “last one back to the car’s a squashed tomato.”
We see the Princes from a distance for about five seconds (circa 1997) – which is about as far as the producers go in examining Diana’s role as a parent or indeed her relationship with Charles, her mother-in-law or the other royals. Think of all the scenes this film COULD have shown – the bereft, aristocratic child of divorced parents being deposited at boarding school gates. The unpalatable fact that Charles had sex with Diana’s older sister; the whole Camilla Parker-Bowles debacle, Fergie as comic relief, that dance with John Revolta. I MEAN I ASK YOU! There may have been ‘Palace restrictions’ on content, but then why make the film at all?
OK! We all know Diana failed her O’levels not once, but twice, and was not the cleverest clog in the clog shop. We also know that she lived an extraordinarily privileged life, having never had to stress about financial worries. On her 18th birthday, for example, she was given a flat in London. After her marriage, she undertook a great deal of travel. She met people from all walks of life, she was pampered and pandered to and adored by her public. She had power and every material advantage; more clothes, more jewels, more luxury cars, more holidays than the average mortal gets in one lifetime. She was also lucky enough to have two sons she adored. So I am not sure why we all go round feeling sorry for her. If you had the choice wouldn’t you rather “One crowded hour of glorious life/ Is worth an age without a name?” Granted, she’s not here to ask.
The best footage in the film and the bit that works (and I admit to getting a little bit teary here), are the depictions of the Princess’s charity work and the limited glimpses into her relationship with the media. I also liked the structural device of starting and ending the film on the last night of her life.
I left the cinema strangely depressed. Like everyone, I wanted to SEE Diana. I didn’t want to see a two-bit actress ‘pretending’. This is perhaps unfair, but if you take on the subject, do it justice. The film could have been sublime; but it was merely ‘sub’ and ‘lime’ – as in under par ( an albatross) and a lemon.
RATING As depressing as a photograph of Camilla Parker Bowles