It’s difficult to make a widely satisfactory biopic, especially about someone as recent and deeply influential as Princess Diana. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel aims to please everyone in Diana, based on Kate Snells’ book, Diana – Her Last Love. If you like benign love stories based on real people, you’re in for a treat. Those looking for a character study of one of the most complicated and beloved figures in recent memory will be sorely disappointed.
The film takes place during the last two tumultuous years of Di’s life. Diana (Naomi Watts) is three years removed from her separation from Prince Charles, and her smiles for the increasingly intrusive paparazzi fade as the doors to her palace close. One can smell the irony of a woman loved by billions feeling starved for affection; a woman who, despite her worldwide celebrity, is desperate for someone who understands who she truly is. Enter Dr. Hasnat Kahn (Naveen Andrews), a Pakistani brain surgeon Diana happens to meet while visiting a friend in the hospital. Hasnat is a hyper-focused doctor whose devotion to his profession intrigues Diana instantly. They fall in love, setting in motion the classic story of star-crossed lovers who cannot seem to escape the reasons they should not be together.
As a love story, Diana largely works, even with melodramatic, over-written dialogue. The chemistry between Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews is believable, the sense of foreboding in moments of happiness feels genuine, and the obstacles the couple face are understandable. Watts has obviously done her homework on the Princess, nailing every posture and inflection of Diana. Andrews turns in a serviceable performance as Hasnat, and the whole affair leaves a lump in your throat by the credits, even though it’s accomplished by leaning on the audience’s knowledge of Diana’s legacy.As an account of true events based on real people, Diana is a failure. The Princess is reduced to a lovesick school girl who just happens to be the most famous woman on the planet. Her relationship with her children is completely absent, her celebrity completely outweighs her intelligence, and many of the scenes seem to serve the story more than what actually happened.
In the end, Diana is an effective tale of love pitted against the cost of celebrity. Just don’t expect an accurate, complex portrayal of the Princess of Wales.