Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Isolated, Doomed And Deprived Of Love

Naomi Watts as Diana, Princess Of Wales in Oliver Hirschbiegel's drama "Diana". 
Entertainment One


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Tuesday, October 29, 2013

An eerie, haunting sound is heard during the opening scene of Oliver Hirschbiegel's drama "Diana".  Her Royal Highness Diana, Princess Of Wales (Naomi Watts) stops and looks back down the long corridor of the Paris Ritz hotel.  Nothing.  The fateful date: August 31, 1997.  A surveillance image, encapsulating the intense intrusion in Diana's life, shows that the clock has not too long struck midnight.  This ghostlike start symbolizes doom and tragedy, and the ice-cold atmosphere that is felt permeates the entirety of Mr. Hirschbiegel's film, a flat, lifeless presentation.  "Diana" opens in numerous U.S. cities on Friday.

Given the active life of the late Princess the staidness of "Diana" is troubling.  Adapted from Kate Snell's book Diana: Her Last Love by Stephen Jeffreys, "Diana" follows the Royal's last two years of life post-separation from Prince Charles, notably Diana's relationship with Pakistani heart surgeon Dr. Nashat Khan (Naveen Andrews, "The Brave One").  The interplay between Ms. Watts and Mr. Andrews is stilted and theatrical.  "I have a mobile phone.  Actually I have four of them," Diana says nervously.  The relationship with Dr. Khan, whom Princess Diana confided was the love of her life, is emotionally vacant onscreen.  "Diana" mistakenly boxes in the very romance Mr. Jeffreys adapts.

Often "Diana" is at war with itself, a film in several minds.  The director packs many episodes, some political, others private, into a film lacking focus and cohesion.  There's little room to breathe -- which "Diana" effectively reinforces to depict the Princess's suffocation -- but this applies to the film itself.  There's no range or shape the narrative takes as it ping-pongs to events untethered from the central relationship.  "Diana", a harried, haphazard experience, becomes documentary, with the recreation of a November 20, 1995 BBC "Panorama" interview with Martin Bashir marking a key turn in Diana's young, all-too-brief life.  Mr. Hirschbiegel's unsettled film alienated me from a tale I know well, and I'm not sure what he wanted to achieve.

"Diana" captures not a person but circumstance: love forbidden via menacing throngs of cameras in public, and seclusion in private.  Ms. Watts conveys the loneliness of a strong, independent figure yearning to breathe free amidst rigid Royal protocol and ravenous paparazzi.  Yet Ms. Watts fails to infuse any warmth or dimension.  The spaces between words and scenes in "Diana" are empty.  There's a barely tangible connection to a figure the world revered.  The soul and depth of Diana isn't there, and, as the opening scene suggests, she's an apparition.  Often Ms. Watts looks on screen as if she's trying to play Diana rather than evoke or inhabit her.  (I kept seeing what looked more like Tina Brown, editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, on the screen.)  

Diana's female assistants and confidantes provide support at 3 a.m. while many of the men mildly deride or scorn her.  "You are making it very difficult for me to keep doors open," one says in a contemptuous tone.  Doors are a theme, and they often close, on the independent Diana, or on other who seek her affection.  I wish doors had closed on "Diana". 

Each scene is sad, not because we know Diana will never return or some parts of her life were sad, but because the lethargic "Diana" casts a sad, laborious shadow over its events.  Scenes meant to be inspiring and touching, whether it be Diana's visit to the African continent to see children attacked by landmines, or random, spontaneous acts, are tinged with melancholy and little energy.  Earlier Diana reveals that "I get excited in hospitals because there's an opportunity to help people," but the line and those in scenes sad, happy or otherwise, registers awkwardly.  

Diana's spacious but isolating Kensington Palace residence reinforces a pall over her freedom.  Diana enjoyed living alone but looks detached from her abode here.  "I can have a burger driven up," Diana says to Dr. Khan, who isn't enamored with her cooking.  This semi-elegant Diana looks perpetually unhappy, anathema to the free spirited, open-hearted and wryly charismatic real-life Diana.  It's an odd disparity, created in part by Ms. Watts and the film's failure to fully commit to Diana as a full-blooded character.  Mr. Jeffreys' script tries to do too much, running from romance to drama to political thriller to media scandal piece to hallowed tribute, dropping the ball in all areas. 

Problematic is the film's start.  By introducing the end of Diana's life and Dodi Fayed, her lover of about a year, and veering to her most precious relationship, "Diana" manufactures a phony dramatic tension between Dr. Khan, a private man, and Mr. Fayed, the son of high-profile Harrods store billionaire and former Fulham Football Club owner Mohamed al-Fayed.  Diana's two loves never met, and the inference of tension is a tacked-on distraction, padding a running time that feels interminable at nearly two hours.

The strange, trance-like ending of "Diana" leaves you empty, not mourning her loss.  The Princess Of Wales' memory is made sloppy at best and mocked at worst.  This is especially true as a quick glimpse shows photos of the real Diana and photos of Ms. Watts' Diana in the same shot amidst flowers outside the Royals' London residence of Buckingham Palace.  It's either a horrendous, lazy blunder or an attempt to make Ms. Watts and the late Princess one and the same.  Regardless, the effect backfires horribly for a person who, as in her life, never received the accolades and warmth form those close by that she should have.

"You give lots of love but you don't receive love," a close adviser and friend says to Diana early on.  "Diana" mimics this sentiment as a film but worse, it throws hollow bouquets at its subject while failing to take enough care and deliberation to nurture or enrich that subject.  Devoid of poignancy, tenderness and a destination, "Diana" drifts inexorably to its final resting place, instantly forgotten.  That is truly sad.

Also with: Geraldine James, Juliet Stevenson, Charles Edwards, Michael Hadley, Daniel Pirrie, Cas Anvar, Douglas Hodge, Jonathan Kerrigan, Art Malik, Laurence Belcher, Harry Holland.

"Diana" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for brief strong language, some sensuality and smoking.  The film's running time is one hour and 53 minutes. 

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