A funny thing about the most recent biopics is that they can either go extremely well, or it can go favourably well. Something like Hitchcock can do alright, and other films like Rush can do far much better. Rarely does a recent biopic become really poorly received. So I was surprised to how many negative reviews Diana got after its release. I was thinking that it was going to be along the lines of something like My Week With Marylin or something with equally favourable reviews, but apparently not! I HAD to see for myself what I thought of the movie.
Diana gives us the story of, who else, but Princess Diana (played by Naomi Watts). Set in the challenging period after her divorce with Prince Charles, we focus on her last years of her life and her relationship with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (played by Naveen Andrews).
So in the end, what did I think? In my first reaction, I thought it was pretty bad. But then when I went to my computer and gave myself the time to process my thoughts, I realised that not only is this film bad. It’s REALLY bad! It’s terrible! ESPECIALLY for a biopic! So… WHY? What the heck went wrong, and why exactly did it fail? What’s so awful about Diana?
Out of all the problems with the film, the first and most obvious problem: it’s not about Diana. Yes, I meant what I said. I know her name’s on the title, but the film broke the number one rule of a biopic: to tell us who this person is. This film doesn’t do that. It does show once in a while what Diana did, including some of her humanitarian work, but a good biopic wouldn’t just mention what the person did: they would mention what KIND of person he or she is, what they represent as an icon to the public and to themselves, and what impact they left on people and on themselves. NEVER, and I mean NEVER do we get any of that. The film doesn’t talk about Princess Diana, or even about a princess more than it talks about a famous person just for being famous. Even if some facts are mentioned about what Diana did, it doesn’t explore or get into what kind of person she is, who she was before and after she became a princess, who the most important people in her life were, how key events in her life affected her, what she thought, what she felt, what she liked, what she disliked, whom she loved, whom she hated, how much she suffered, how… well, you get the idea…
As a biopic, this film is MEANT to tell us what made Diana a person and what made her an icon. NONE of that is present in the film, and any attempt to do so is just glanced over to give way to the stupid romance. UN-FREAKING-BELIEVABLE! It’s like the film DOESN’T EVEN CARE. COME ON! How can you not care? It’s Princess Diana!
It fails to make Diana a real or sympathetic character, and because of that I have no emotional attachment to this character in the film (not to be confused with the real person). With some of the worst writing I’ve ever heard, we’re supposed to accept that “she’s a normal person like everyone else”. We see her cooking “like a normal person”, jogging “like a normal person”, she watches TV “like a normal person”, etc. You get the idea. It gets really obnoxious, and even then it says NOTHING about who she is. Sometimes it feels like she’s not famous at all! It feels like she’s some character in a stupid romantic comedy: very bland and boring. The film likes to bring up the fact that “she’s a humanitarian”, which would be fine if the dialogue wasn’t so forced. But it gets worse when we’re told that she manipulates the media to her own advantage. It’s a pile of mess, because it goes against the whole “humanitarian woman”. When we see her interacting with people in need (whether it’s a woman who lost her son, a blind man, or that Angolan girl) or some other form of humanitarianism (such as the famous brave walk across the minefield in Angola), the press takes photographs of her actions like it was all staged. While sometimes it’s not clear whether she is doing so on purpose or not, at times we do see her orchestrating the press. There’s also when Diana purposefully calls the press and arranges them to take photographs of her and Dodi Fayed, so that these photographs can be seen on newspapers make Hasnat jealous (I think that’s what the film implies, although this plot point doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense… none of the film makes sense). So with this in mind, it kinda gives an ugly face to this character, like sometimes she doesn’t care about the humanitarian work she was so forcefully implying. Like it’s only as a means to make an image out of herself. In that case, this character’s almost unlikeable… which is the opposite of what this film is meant to do! I just… I mean… IT’S PRINCESS DIANA! EVERYONE likes her!
This doesn’t really have to do with Naomi Watts herself, especially since she’s an amazing actress and does kinda look the part. The hair and make-up were done really well, and it helps with the fact that Naomi Watts is very beautiful herself. Even the costume design was good at recreating Diana’s dresses and outfits. However, she doesn’t sell the performance, and it’s not as amazing as her other performances (she was OUTSTANDING in her recent film The Impossible, for instance). I’ll admit, sometimes I saw Diana, but I think occasionally I saw Naomi Watts. I personally think that’s more due to the writing and directing. I’m pretty sure that if the character HAD been done with justice, Naomi Watts would have nailed it, and I would have seen her in the role all the way through, as I know she is an amazing actress.
Either way, this character is boring, confusing, and unsympathetic. She’s also given more simplified motivations than making her an interesting, likeable, or real character. Why did this happen? Because the film is NOT about Diana. This film is ONLY concerned with the romance between Diana and Hasnat. If the film wanted to bring up the romance between the princess and the heart surgeon, that’s fine, but its problem was making that the main focus. The film suggests the idea that Hasnat was the driving force, and perhaps the ONLY important thing in her life, especially during the past two years of her life. Oh yeah! Like there’s no other freaking person involved in her life! HECK, immediately after she goes to Angola, we see her return to Hasnat as if the film were saying, “Enough of the humanitarian side. Let’s get back to the romance, which is the most important bit of her life!” No, movie. No. In fact, I don’t even know who the rest of the people are in the film. Like there’s this blonde woman who’s with Diana and giving advice to her once in a while… I STILL have no freaking clue who this woman is!!! No other relationships are established, and any other mention about other people in her life are glanced over, and sometimes pushed away to focus on her relationship with Hasnat. We get some mentions of other people, like her parents, Prince Charles, and even her sons, but that’s never explored. Sometimes it’s like she doesn’t even care for her sons. She does say once that she promised her kids not to go through the same thing that she did (the divorce of their parents, I mean), and the fact that she has limited time with them. But then the rest of the time she’s like “my boys are not going to be here, so I have time to go on holiday”. And then in another scene we see the Princes ONCE as they head back home and exchange their goodbyes with their mother, but we see NO interaction or anything! WOW! I mean WOW!
This isn’t even a good romance to begin with. I don’t buy the chemistry between Hasnat and Diana, and Hasnat himself is also not that interesting or likeable. It tries to portray him as some kind of philosopher or poet, but with the pretentious dialogue, he ends up sounding really stupid. Like the scene where he shows Diana how he does heart operations, he says, “I do not perform the operation. The operation performs me.” I mean, WHAT??? That’s just ONE of the awkward dialogues in the film.
I don’t know how much was fictionalised, but you can easily tell when it is. Even if it isn’t, it’s written like a freaking soap opera! Diana’s break-up with Hasnat in Hyde Park (which did happen there) actually was decent enough, and ALMOST had me believing in Diana’s pain, but then the scene’s ruined when Diana runs back to her place, and begins playing the freaking piano, and then breaking down… I’m sorry, what?
The writing is either boring, forced, or just plain stupid.
And DON’T get me started on the direction for this film! I already mentioned various things, but this film overall implies that this story is about “true love” or something, even after her tragic death when Hasnat vows to meet her again in heaven. Worst of all, the film opens on that fateful night in Paris, with the foreshadowing of her death being manipulative and very forced. There’s even this dramatic sound effect, which is so loud that Diana herself can freaking hear it! That might offend a lot of British people, as the death of Princess Diana is still very tragic.
I can’t explain all of the editing in detail, but it’s awkward. There’s this instance when we get a very quick montage of something that have nothing to do with the story: Diana is suddenly dancing at some random club, and then she’s stopping some random guy screaming at his girlfriend… I don’t know why that was there. From what I remember, the cut transitions are too quick and out of nowhere: we see Diana talk on the phone, and then BOOM, cut to weeks later. And sometimes they’re in a conversation, and then BOOM, next scene. OH GEESH, and there’s actually one point where there’s meant to be a handheld shot of the camera approaching the actor, but it so obviously looks like a ken burn effect! Now THAT’S embarrassing!
So finally, let me ask this: HOW? HOW did the director mess this up??? This director did Downfall! You mean to tell me that he could direct a film about Hitler, but not a film about Princess Diana??? But it’s… it’s… IT’S PRINCESS DIANA!
I feel sorry for the people who are close to Diana or ever admired her in some way or another. I almost feel like I have to apologise to anyone who watches this film! I feel like I have to apologise to the PRINCES if they ever watch this film! You know what? I think the filmmakers should apologise to everyone who had to sit through this film, and anyone involved with the making of the film. I demand a freaking apology myself! I wanted to have a biopic about Diana and know more about her! I wanted to like this movie, I really did! But overall it’s stupid, uninspired, ridiculous and most of all insulting! I didn’t get attached to the characters, the story took the wrong direction with the whole “true love” plot, the writing and directing is awkward and sloppy, and it does NO justice to Princess Diana. Instead of an insightful film about Diana, we have junk. Whatever you do, avoid this movie. DON’T WATCH IT!