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Even for a Princess Di biopic, 'Diana' is overly obsessed with death

"Diana," which focuses on the three years leading up to Princess Di's death, spends an inordinate amount of time rubbing our noses in death.

Noami Watts' Princess Di snuggles with Naveen Andrews' Hasnat Khan in "Diana." Credit: eOnePublicity Noami Watts' Princess Di snuggles with Naveen Andrews' Hasnat Khan in "Diana."
Credit: eOnePublicity

‘Diana’
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Stars: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

We begin mere moments before the accident. The camera follows Lady Diana Spencer of Wales from behind, keeping a respectful distance in a long, sinister tracking shot while an ominous drone oozes from the soundtrack. A title card informs us that it is Aug. 31, 1997, but even if you’ve been living under a rock for the past two decades, it’s already glaringly obvious that Princess Di is about to die.

Director Oliver Hirschbiegel’s gloomy, doom-laden biopic soon flashes back to three years before that tragic evening in Paris, yet the mood never much improves. Separated from Charles and living in a gilded cage of vast luxury and absurd media scrutiny, Naomi Watts’ Diana is dwarfed by her opulent surroundings, shunned by her friends and unable to stop confessing morbid nightmares to her acupuncturist. Be forewarned: There are not a lot of scenes in this movie during which anybody is talking about any subject other than death.

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A brief window of levity opens upon Diana’s chance meeting with Hasnat Khan, a suave Pakistani surgeon played by that old “English Patient” heartthrob Naveen Andrews. He drinks too much, gorges himself on fast food, chain-smokes and subjects her to football games on the telly. Instantly smitten, our regal royal subject is reduced to a giggling teenage girl. “He doesn’t treat me like a princess,” she smiles.

It’s almost fun for a little while, with all the skulking around in disguises and thinking they’ve fooled the palace guards. Watts and Andrews mount a heroic battle against playwright Stephen Jeffreys’ script, which alternates clunky exposition with sub-Harlequin romance dialogue and ever-present musings regarding the hereafter. These two lovers have a playful chemistry, but even the movie’s most romantic moment can’t help but end with Diana quoting her favorite passage about death from the Quran.

As Di’s divorce makes her the most famous woman in the world, the tabloids take their toll and it’s clear that Hirschbiegel is hell-bent on turning this all into an incredibly depressing remake of “Notting Hill.” He’s a bizarre choice for this material in the first place, having previously helmed “Downfall,” the three-hour Hitler-in-the-bunker movie that launched a million YouTube parodies.

Carrying on for a half hour or so after the central love story is over and done with, “Diana” devolves into a formless montage of threatening portents and sinister paparazzi shots. We get it. It’s sad. She died.

 
 
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