Diana, Princess of Wales: Naomi Watts
Dr. Hasnat Khan: Naveen Andrews
Dodi Fayed: Cas Anvar
Laurence Belcher as Prince William of Wales
Harry Holland as Prince Harry of Wales
Douglas Hodge as Paul Burrell
Geraldine James as Oonagh Toffolo
Charles Edwards as Patrick Jephson
I swore when this movie premiered that I would never watch this film. Does the world really need another movie about Diana, Princess of Wales? Well, never say never. The film popped up on my Netflix front page as a recommended film. Since I had nothing else to watch after the second season of HOUSE OF CARDS, I clicked on the poster and waited as the film downloaded to my NOOK. Sort of like a palate cleanser after the Machiavellian shenanigans that went on in HOUSE OF CARDs.
I wish I could tell you that the film turned out to be better than I imagined, given my low expectations, but that would be a lie. Seriously, it was like a Lifetime TV movie but with higher priced talent, and a bigger budget. There is a reason that it only had like 8% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film is based on Kate Snell's 2001 book Diana: Her Last Love about her relationship with the Pakistani heart surgeon, Dr. Hasnat Khan (which I haven’t read) and it plays like the worst kind of Harlequin romance novel. The ones written in the early seventies. The film opens with Diana getting into the elevator at the Ritz Hotel just before the car accident that takes her life. It then flashes back to two years earlier with Diana (Naomi Watts) returning home from a royal engagement. She quickly dismisses her staff for the evening, chucks off her shoes and turns on the radio. After wandering aimlessly around Kensington Palace, she makes herself some beans on toast, and settles down to read her diary, practicing her lines for her interview with Martin Bashir.
Diana has a session with Oonagh Toffolo, an Irish acupuncturist, where she complains about her life. When Oonagh’s husband has a heart attack; Diana rushes to the hospital to be with her. Of course, she has a meet cute with Dr. Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), the heart surgeon on the case. Diana is all downcast eyes and blushes; the film implies that it is love at first sight for the Princess. She quickly comes up with all sorts of reasons to see him again. Hasnat is smitten as well but he’s much more realistic about the whole situation. We are next treated to adorable scenes of Diana smuggling Hasnat into Kensington Palace in the trunk (or boot if you’re English) of her car, and sneaking off to meet him wearing a long, dark wig. Since Hasnat digs jazz, so they spend an evening at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in the West End. The loved up couple don’t share anything of significance in the film, no revelations about their pasts, what they are looking for in a relationship. You know the little things that most couples talk about in the early stages of their relationship.
No in this celluloid romance, the biggest problem is that Diana has the baggage of well, you know, being the most famous woman in the world. There are plenty of scenes of Hasnat not being able to deal with her celebrity, watching the Panorama interview at his local pub. When the news leaks about their relationship, Diana calls a journalist she trusts, and refutes the story which ticks of Hasnat. Diana, however, is determined to make the relationship work. She flies to Pakistan solely to meet Hasnat’s family (without Hasnat), his mother gives Diana a crash course in the history of Pakistan, including Mountbatten’s role in it. As if Diana is personally responsible for the partition because she was married to Mountbatten’s great-nephew. Art Malik shows up briefly to sit in a car with Hasnat while giving him advice. Later on, while on a trip to Italy, she meets up with renowned heart surgeon Dr. Christian Barnaard, and hits him up for a job for Hasnat in Boston. Of course, Hasnat is upset that she would go behind his back, without even asking him.
In between sweet scenes of Diana and Hasnat being loved up, we have are given scenes of Diana doing her humanitarian work, walking through fields dotted with land minds, breast-feeding an orphaned baby (okay, I made that one up), and finally offering her dresses up for charity. Angry at Hasnat for not paying enough attention to her, she flies off to take a cruise with Dodi Fayed. Poor Dodi Fayed, he’s barely in this movie. We never really know whether Diana was playing him to make Hasnat jealous, whether or not she really cared for him. We are treated to her tipping off journalists to take photos of her on the yacht. In the end, she dramatically breaks it off with Hasnat before jetting off once again to spend time with Dodi. But her heart is still with her heart surgeon (according to the film), the film intimates that Diana tried to call Hasnat from Paris.
In the end, the film is all smoke and mirrors signifying nothing. Naomi Watts gives a valiant performance as Diana, clearly better than the film deserves. She nails the shy glances, the breathy voice, and the steel beneath the fragile exterior. This Diana is slightly manipulative and needy but not to any great extent. Watts plays the role as part Marilyn Monroe, part Mother Theresa but we never really feel Diana’s pain. Several biographers have suggested that Diana had a deep emotional hole, that she never truly felt loved, by her parents, by her husband, nor by James Hewitt. We also never get to see her interact with Prince Charles, the young Princes, or indeed anyone of her family. Even Paul Burrell is just a bystander (so much for being her rock. Not in this film). It’s like this Diana exists in a bubble. Naveen Andrews does his best with what I call the ‘magical brown person’ role. His Hasnat Khan never seems to have any strong emotions, about Diana, about marrying her, about the press. He’s just there, pretty much a cipher. He shows the most emotion when he discovers that Diana tried to get him a job in Boston behind his back.
I believe that there is a film or a miniseries just waiting to be made about Diana, taking her from a young bride to the end of her life (preferably based on Tina Brown’s book) but this is not it. There are scenes in this film that make no sense. For example, Diana shows up at the opera house, looking incredibly glamorous, with the paparazzi snapping photos. Later we see her inside the opera house talking on the phone to Prince William but there is no one there. Did the call take place after the opera was over? Has no one else arrived yet? Then later on, there are scenes when Diana is traveling in Australia, where Paul Burrell is seen shepherding her through paparazzi. Umm, why would her butler be traveling with her? Even Prince Charles doesn't take his butler with him when he travels.
If the movie comes on television, or you see it at the library, and you have nothing else to do, then take a quick glance. Otherwise, don't bother.