Just over two years ago I wrote a review on this website of William & Kate, an awful TV movie that was made for the US television channel Lifetime and premiered in the UK on DVD and Channel 5. It wasn’t shown in cinemas. How could it have been? It was so vomit-inducing, badly directed and devoid of any power it would have been laughed out the multiplexes. Downfall director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film Diana is the theatrically released equivalent – a cinema feature that has no place in the cinema. This would look and feel low-rent on the small screen, let alone on the biggest screens in major cinemas across the country.
Let’s start with Naomi Watts’s performance as the Princess of Wales. If this was a Monarchy-themed instalment of the Scary Movie franchise, or an extended episode of the send-up series Dead Ringers, her portrayal of Diana would be a work of genius. The performance she hands in relies on imitation, rather than solid acting, and within the context of a film purporting to be a serious portrait of the world’s most famous woman, the whole thing feels terribly ill-judged. Watts has proved with her past efforts, most recently in the extraordinary film The Impossible, that she has the power to be not just a good actor, but a great one. This movie feels like a painful anomaly and so incongruous it feels like it was made in a parallel universe where cinema’s greatest actors spend their days making naff daytime TV.
Naveen Andrews, a British actor made famous by the US TV series Lost, has a jolly good go at playing the Pakistani heart surgeon whom Diana falls in love with during her final two years. It doesn’t help that Stephen Jeffrey’s appalling screenplay gives him such dreadful lines to say (including some unintentionally hilarious rubbish about the scent of flowers in the garden of love). Apparently Andrews and Watts wanted to march down to Basildon University Hospital where the real Dr. Khan works and talk to him about his role in Diana’s life, however director Hirschbiegel stopped them. He feared this would be an invasion of privacy. I’ll leave you to savour the ridiculousness of this considering what film he has just made.
If this had indeed been a straight-to-DVD venture or made for a tacky US drama channel, one could watch it and chuckle. Sadly, this film desperately wants to be something more and has been given a similar promotional treatment that Stephen Frears’s film The Queen received in 2006. The difference is, The Queen was actually made for television by ITV, then released in cinemas. Diana, however, was always destined for the big screen but the finished product never justifies its place there. The Queen succeeded at the awards ceremonies. This will not. Watts certainly isn’t in any danger of getting an Oscar.
Diana (2013), directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, is released in UK cinemas by Entertainment One, Certificate 12A. Watch the trailer below: