The critics have spoken. Following the September 5 London premiere of Oliver Hirschbiegel’s “Diana,” starring Naomi Watts, negative reviews haranguing the biopic hit the web with a resounding thud. What was once thought to be an Oscar hopeful for long-overdue Aussie actress Watts has now been derided as a “squirmingly embarrassing,” “cheap and chearless effort.” Oy.
“Diana” follows the last two years of Diana’s life, charting her various romances and her evolution into a major international campaigner and humanitarian. The cast includes Naveen Andrews as heart surgeon Dr. Hasnat Khan and Charles Edwards as Patrick Jephson. The film focuses primarily on Diana’s affair with Khan, which lasted from 1995 until a few months before her death in 1997.
While the first trailer (below) smacked of Lifetime-ready sentimentalism, awards pundits had previously tapped Watts, twice-Oscar-nominated for her gobsmacking lead performances in “21 Grams” and “The Impossible,” as a possible early contender. Scathing reviews out of London don’t necessarily rule her out of the conversation stateside. After all, in 2012 Meryl Streep prevailed to Academy glory in spite of middling reviews of another Brit political biopic, “The Iron Lady.”
But it doesn’t look good for “Diana” and Watts who, though well-liked since she fought tooth-and-tail for her place in the race in the early 2000s, is no critic-proof Streep. And though foreign language Oscar-nommed in 2005 for the WWII drama “Downfall,” director Hirschbiegel isn’t out of the doghouse either. Here’s a roundup of the post-premiere rants.
I hesitate to use the term “car crash cinema”. But the awful truth is that, 16 years after that terrible day in 1997, she has died another awful death. This is due to an excruciatingly well-intentioned, reverential and sentimental biopic about her troubled final years, laced with bizarre cardboard dialogue – a tabloid fantasy of how famous and important people speak in private.
“Diana” can only be described as a fabulously awful film. The Queen of Hearts has been recast as a sad-sack singleton that even Bridget Jones would cross the street to avoid. Charting the two years leading up to her death in 1997, the film’s a cheap and cheerless effort that looks like a Channel 5 mid-week matinee. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel should know better.
“Diana” is a very respectful, almost demure, project, clearly enamored of the “People’s Princess.” British-financed and flatly shot in a myriad of international locations, it presents Diana as a lonely Princess-singleton in her Kensington Palace isolation, looking for a love which is naturally impossible as she is “the most famous woman in the world” (like Julia Roberts in “Notting Hill” but with a car crash as a finale, as opposed to a chase).
Watts makes a decent fist of playing Diana — she wears the clothes well (especially the glamorous ones) and the hair looks first-rate. But though she replicates Diana’s body language attentively (notably in the re-creation of her famous grilling by Martin Bashir), there’s something missing: the Princess’s wounded, doe-eyed gaze… But ultimately, what’s the point of “Diana”? It’s hardly fascinating. It doesn’t offer new facts about the Princess’s life. And it certainly doesn’t explain her complexity or contradictions. That would take a different, better film altogether.
It is a very watchable film – and certainly not the turkey some had dismissed it as even before its release. The Oscar-nominated Watts gives a brilliant, passionate and believable performance as the tragic Diana. For me, the British/Australian actress captures the vulnerability and complexity of the late Princess, in her almost manic, desperate search for love. In real life, Diana may not have been quite as desperate as the film suggests, but Watts manages to draw you into the character and made me – at least for a couple of hours – believe in her Diana.