Diana aims for competence
By Nandini Ramnath, NEW DELHI, Mint (MCT)Tina Brown's witty, gossipy and perceptive “The Diana Chronicles” is one of the best books to consult if you want to make sense of the complicated life and tragic end of the Princess of Wales. German filmmaker Oliver Hirschbiegel's biopic “Diana” takes the basic facts of the British royal's post-divorce years, puts them through the dry-cleaner and then whips them on the washing stone to make sure that no blemishes or stains survive.
October 18, 2013, 12:05 am TWN
The movie, drawn from Kate Snell's “Diana: Her Last Love,” could have been a rich drama about a highly self-aware and media-savvy celebrity's reckless affair with a Pakistani surgeon, heartbreak and a rebound relationship that ended in a tragedy. Rather, “Diana,” based on British playwright Stephen Jeffrey's screenplay, is a by-the-numbers romance between a beautiful woman, who happens to be one of the most well-known representatives of her species on the planet, and a bemused-looking doctor who never quite comes to terms with what he has gotten into.
“Diana” peeks behind the curtain but not beneath the carpet, and takes at face value the motivations and actions of its lead characters. The early bits, when the princess (Naomi Watts) loses her heart to surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), work the best, as the newly minted lovers bond over his appetite for burgers, her compassion for causes, and their joint glee at shaking off the paparazzi with the help of wigs and helpful staff.
While Diana goes all moony-eyed for Hasnat, he resembles a biologist who has chanced upon a most interesting looking specimen. It's suggested that Hasnat's initial indifference to Diana's celebrity was the big spark that kindled the relationship, but the on-screen couple lacks any frisson to justify the widely held belief that he was the great love of her life, and the man she wanted to marry after divorcing Prince Charles (who is erased from the movie, as are their sons). The racism faced by Hasnat, when the press found about his Pakistani ethnicity, is not referred to even in passing, nor is Diana's changed perception of herself. Diana's increasing involvement in social causes, notably, anti-mining legislation, is attributed to her newfound desire to be worthy of Hasnat's love — a disservice to an intelligent but complex woman who tried to rewrite the rules that governed her life, often with tragic results.
As the affair gathers steam, the movie runs out of it. Hirschbiegel's reluctance to wade in the tabloid muck generated by the royal's romantic entanglements isn't the problem — it's his reverence toward Diana's self-image that prevents him, and us, from understanding the turmoil that seethed in the hearts of the principal characters. His modern-day fairy tale works just fine for less demanding viewers who remember Diana from her countless photographs, magazine interviews and television appearances. It's a flattering, but also flattening, account. The movie aims for competence rather than revelation, and competence is present in the truckloads.