The people of England still love the late Princess Diana. But there's little love in the UK for the new movie about her life and untimely death.
"Diana," featuring Naomi Watts in the title role, focuses on Princess Diana's last years and her love affair with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. After its world premiere in London on Thursday, the reaction from British critics has been resoundingly negative. Initial reviews are attacking the film for its stale dialogue, plodding pace, awkward performances, and the leading lady's lack of resemblance to the real life Diana.
Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian describes "Diana" as "an excruciatingly well-intentioned, reverential and sentimental biopic about her troubled final years, laced with bizarre cardboard dialogue – a tabloid fantasy of how famous and important people speak in private." Bradshaw goes on to ask, "Is this film an MI5 plot to blacken Diana's name and make her look plastic and absurd?"
David Edwards in the Daily Mirror is less florid but just as disappointed. Edwards leads off by describing "Diana" as "a fabulously awful film" and adds, "The Queen of Hearts has been recast as a sad-sack singleton that even Bridget Jones would cross the street to avoid."
The London Telegraph's David Gritten is just a bit more generous – he gives the movie two stars out of five, as opposed to the Guardian's one-star review – but he says the movie seriously lacks the ring of truth. "The film invents events in the couple’s courtship," Gritten said. "Some of these beggar belief: would Diana, arriving at Khan’s empty, untidy flat, have started vacuuming frantically? Would the couple have walked around London parks so openly, without security protection?"
While the film itself seems to be getting universally panned, the reviewers are running hot and cold on Naomi Watt's performance as Diana. Screen International's Fionnuala Halligan described Watt's turn as "brave," and Gritten in the Telegraph says, "Watts makes a decent fist of playing Diana – she wears the clothes well (especially the glamorous ones) and the hair looks first-rate." But Gritten goes on to say, "Though she replicates Diana’s body language attentively (notably in the re-creation of her famous grilling by Martin Bashir), there’s something missing: the Princess’s wounded, doe-eyed gaze." And Edwards in the Mirror sums up the most common criticism of Watts as Diana: "[She] looks utterly, completely and entirely nothing like the real thing."
The critics aren't bothering to be so diplomatic with Naveen Andrews (best known as Sayid Jarrah on "Lost") as Hasnat Khan. Edwards says Andrews "looks as if he’s just stumbled on to a movie set," and Bradshaw calls the character "a dismally written role with which the actor Naveen Andrews can do little or nothing." (It's worth nothing that the real-life Hasnat Khan has criticized "Diana" in the press, though he admits he hasn't seen it yet.)
But the reviewers saved some of their sharpest barbs for director Oliver Hirschbiegel (the German filmmaker best known for his film about Hitler's last days, "Downfall") and screenwriter Stephen Jeffreys. "Hirschbiegel seems uncomfortable in the world of romance," Halligan said. "Not being British would ideally loosen the constraints of dealing with the UK’s 'Queen of Hearts,' but 'Diana' is still very polite, apologetic even." Edwards writes, "The film’s a cheap and cheerless effort that looks like a Channel 5 mid-week matinee. Director Oliver Hirschbiegel should know better."
Gritten sums up the consensus on the movie's clunky writing: "The major problem, predictably, comes with the dialogue, which involves characters telling each other things they already know. 'I am a heart surgeon!' declares heart surgeon Khan. On another occasion: 'You’re the most famous woman in the world.' Yes, we get it."
While the first reviews have just appeared, leading lady Naomi Watts already seems to be wary of defending "Diana" in the UK press. On Tuesday, BBC Radio host Simon Mayo said in a post on Twitter that Watts walked out midway through an interview regarding the film; he later told a reporter he didn't know why, though he admitted, "You know my hectoring style is always a problem." Journalist Allison Pearson interviewed Watts shortly after the incident with Mayo, and said the actress "was heavily guarded" as she answered questions. Sorry, Naomi, but no one said playing one of the most loved women in the world was going to be easy.
See Naomi Watts in the "Diana" teaser trailer: