Hollywood biopics can be tricky for directors. How do you know what to include or leave out during the process of filming? What is important enough in someone’s life to put onto the big screen and what can be left behind in the editing room?
The director of Diana, Oliver Hirschbiegel, gained such success with the critically acclaimed Downfall, which depicted Hitler’s last days – but in his latest cinematic venture, Hirschbiegel’s desire to focus on only two years of the Diana’s life may well have been the film’s own downfall.
The Princess of Wales was the most famous and photographed woman in the world for most of the 1990s and every movement was followed by the paparazzi. The film joins the princess two years before her tragic death in Paris, as she searches for happiness and love.
Naomi Watts plays the doe-eyed royal who finds romance with a heart surgeon from Pakistan Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). The two embark on a secret love affair that manages to bring joy to Diana’s lonely life but her fame makes it impossible for the two to have any sort of normal relationship. Diana clings desperately to the man she loves while also attempting to become the ‘Queen of People’s Hearts’, struggling to find a balance between her public and private life.
It cannot be denied that Watts truly captured the late princess’s character to almost perfection, even managing to nail down the low side glances to the camera. The actress herself confessed that she had watched Diana’s infamous Panorama interview hundreds of times to perfect her portrayal. Unfortunately, the poor script lets a potentially good film fall to the wayside. The weak dialogue between Diana and Khan revolves around silly clichés and sappy quotes about love.
And that’s all the film is: a story about romance. If the subject in question had been another public figure, then the bittersweet tale would have been appropriate. But Diana was a world icon, bigger than any other member of the royal family and had just as many scandals as anyone else.
You could say that the majority of the scandals in her life could be mere speculation but why choose a run-of-the-mill love tale to entertain an audience. We see her run around in disguise so she can date her lover without the unwanted attention from the paparazzi yet we really don’t learn anything about why she was labelled as a ‘loose cannon’ by the royal administration.
Her frosty relationship with the royals still remains a talking point among the British public. Yet they only feature as fleeting mentions throughout the film. Why choose to ignore the in-laws?
The Palace had a detrimental effect on the princess and it seems strange that Hirschbiegel decided to leave out even the character of Prince Charles. Was it out of respect for the family, or fear? Even Dodi Fayed is used merely as a prop in a few scenes (he speaks about three sentences in the entire film).
Although there have been thousands of stories written about Diana and the Windors, what harm was there in exploring her later relationships with Charles and her sons? Even her manipulative behaviour with the press and her erratic actions when Khan ends things are smoothed over, as if it would be blasphemous to suggest that she was anything other the saintly ‘People’s Princess’.
Naturally Hirschbiegel spoke about his desire to showcase a different side of the princess, a side which the public never really knew about. Indeed, Watts managed to portray Diana as a young singleton but it was not enough to anchor a film around. Hasnat Khan has already accused the film of misinterpreting their relationship, saying they ‘got it all wrong’.
It’s difficult to understand what Hirschbiegel was trying to achieve, or what message he attempted to send out about Diana. By playing it safe, the film does an injustice to an iconic figure in history.
Diana is in cinemas September 20