When it comes to biopics about so-called ‘national treasures,’ it is often difficult to make a story interesting without risking public disapproval. Even before ‘Diana’ was released, there were furious royalists choking on their veal at the thought that the subject matter might upset our precious Princes. If they let the Diana fever subside for a moment and judged this film on its artistic merits, they would find a far more valid reason to be dissatisfied.
‘Diana’ is set in the two years prior to her death when she becomes romantically involved with Hasnat Khan, a Pakistani heart surgeon. Khan loves Diana but is concerned over how his job as a heart surgeon would be affected with the huge amount of media attention the relationship would cause.
The most serious failing is its lack of subtlety. It suffers from a daytime movie style direction that feels the need to throw set decoration in the viewer’s face while leaving nothing to the imagination. Take for example, whenever Diana walks into a restaurant or public place, all the extras stare, point and exclaim ‘Look, it’s Diana!’ Obviously, the director is trying to say that Diana is very famous but there are far better ways of doing this that don’t feel so much like amateurish pantomime. When Hasnat Khan walks into his hospital the day after being outed by the press as Diana’s boyfriend, the same thing happens. People point and chase after him, forgetting all sense of decency (and, of course, reality), for the sake of ham-fisting an idea into the viewer’s throats.
The filmmakers clearly felt pressure to meet with the sought after public image of Diana as ‘The People’s Princess,’ even if it meant making her character into a cardboard fit of the public perception of her. There were many scenes where Diana would go into a fit of unconvincing rage at the lack of awareness of the world’s problems. As though she was a one-woman crusade of decency against the barbaric modern times. When she meets Khan for the first time, there is a hilarious speech where she tells him she finds hospitals exciting because it makes her realise how many people she can help. Not only is this unrealistic but also totally drains scenes of any potential inner-conflict over Diana’s true motives. A far more interesting idea than anything this film is concerned with.
Essentially, the main problem is with the atrocious script, surely one of the worst to have ever been released en masse. Stephen Jeffreys writes some of the worst dialogue and creates the most laughable moments in his attempts at creating depth for his characters. The moment when Hasnat Khan closes his eyes while listening to jazz has to be one of the great unintentionally funny moments of the year. Likewise, when he watches football at Diana’s palace and starts complaining about Chelsea’s deep lying defensive lines against the attacking intent of a McManaman inspired Liverpool team. It really is laughable the way the script basically tells the viewer what each character’s traits are without the faintest trace of elegance.
The result being that Diana will be relegated to some daytime movie channel in the future, which might not be too disappointing to the filmmakers. It is difficult to believe that they predicted anything more for what always comes across as a safe, meaningless love story about a familiar person. Amazingly, this is directed by Oliver Hirschbigel, the man behind ‘Downfall’, one of the most ambitious and compelling biopics about the epitome of evil, Adolf Hitler. Perhaps this proves that evil makes a far more interesting proposition than the bland media-created perfection of Diana.