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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

DVD Review: Diana

I knew basically nothing about Princess Diana going into this film, but was excited to see Diana because of its director – Oliver Hirschbiegel made Downfall, one of the best films I’ve seen – and its star. I’ve been a fan of Naomi Watts’ work since Mulholland Dr. Diana focuses on the last two years of Princess Diana’s life, particularly her relationship with Hasnat Khan, a Pakistani heart surgeon.

The film begins on August 31, 1997, the day that Diana died. The camera work in the opening sequence in her hotel room is great, particularly the moment when she turns as if forgetting something, and the camera pulls back, retreating. Once she and her entourage get into the elevator, the film takes us back to two years earlier. For those of us who know little about Diana, a title card tells us, “Diana, Princess of Wales, has been formally separated from her husband Prince Charles for nearly three years.”

We immediately see the insanity of her very public life, with people crowding around her, snapping photos, and then the contrasting silence and stillness once she reaches the safety of her car. She then speaks to herself in her mirror at home about her marriage, testing how the words sound before giving an interview. She soon is seated for that interview, joking that it’s too late to back out now. Interestingly, the film doesn’t show us any of the actual interview at that moment. (Later we’ll see her deliver the very lines that she rehearsed in the mirror.)

She meets Dr. Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), who gives her a tour of the hospital after she expresses an interest, even a fascination with hospitals. She invites him over to dinner, and Sonia (played by the wonderful, and here underused Juliet Stevenson) gets healthful food for Diana to serve him. But though he is a heart surgeon, Hasnat prefers fast food hamburgers and cigarettes. And so she has hamburgers delivered (we’ve seen scenes like this in many other films). We then have a scene of them watching sports on television, Hasnat acting like a typical man and Diana acting like a typical woman. I suppose it’s meant to be interesting in the very fact that it’s not interesting, that Diana can be just as ordinary as anyone else, but scenes like this fall rather flat. After he mentions that he likes jazz, we get a scene of Sonia dumping out a bag of jazz CDs on Diana’s floor and giving her a brief lesson on the subject. Scenes like that give the movie the feel of a teen romance.

Hasnat seems a bit arrogant, in the way he delivers certain lines, such as “I follow no one” and “I don’t have any bad habits” (when she mentions his smoking). Because Hasnat is very private person he tells her he can’t date her, that his job as a surgeon requires him to be focused. So she shows up at his door in a brown wig, and he doesn’t recognize her, which is ridiculous.

The most interesting scenes are the ones that deal more with her in the political realm. When Patrick Jephson (Diana’s private secretary) resigns after the interview airs, she tells him “You’ve been a rock.” Patrick asks, “What will you do?” She responds, “Get a new rock.” It’s simple, direct, honest and believable. And we do get some scenes regarding her humanitarian efforts, particularly dealing with the landmines (there is a great moment when photographers realize the danger and become interested as Diana crosses a recently cleaned mine field).

But mostly the film focuses on the relationship, which one or the other of them ends like four times in the film, and always for the same reason. The film never really builds to anything, and seems to have no real goal or point. And for what is essentially attempting to be a tragic love story, it never engaged me emotionally. The fault seems to be with the screenplay, as the performances are good.

By the way, even though the movie begins and ends with the day that Diana died, it avoids all specifics regarding Diana’s death. The movie assumes you know that already.

Special Features

The DVD includes several interviews with cast and crew members, totaling approximately forty-six minutes. Naomi Watts talks about what drew her to the project and about the role. She also mentions that Downfall is a masterpiece. The DVD also contains a little booklet with photos focusing on the fashion.

Diana was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel, who in addition to directing the incredible Downfall also directed The Invasion, an excellent recent version of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Diana was released on DVD and Blu-ray on February 11, 2014.

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