Top-notch set but biopic is boring

Review DRAMA


113 minutes/opens tomorrow/ **

The story: Diana, Princess of Wales (Naomi Watts) on the verge of divorce, snubbed by the Royal Family and mobbed by millions, is trapped, lonely and depressed. When the husband of her New Age therapist develops a heart problem, she visits him in hospital and meets his doctor, Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews).

It is love at first sight for her and a secret romance blossoms. The most famous woman in the world even travels to Pakistan to seek his family's approval. But after news of the affair leaks, Dr Khan finds the pressure of public scrutiny unbearable.

It is not enough that a biopic be created because its subject has name recognition; that person must also posses some extraordinary quality worth exploring.

The fundamental problem here is that Diana was famed for being famous, having been plucked from obscurity to be the bride of Prince Charles.

In trying to show how interesting a person she was, post-breakup with Prince Charles, this pan-European co-production scores an own goal. It unintentionally reinforces the idea that she was far from being a person of striking personality, intelligence, drive or talent.

Worse, she is shown to be a stereotype of a lovesick woman, pining for the attention of a standoffish male lover and scheming to worm her way back into his affections.

On the plus side, the film shows her going from nervous and lonely to a woman growing in self-confidence, but so would anyone else, given the circumstances. Screenwriter Stephen Jeffreys adapts a 2001 book by Kate Snell, Diana: Her Last Love. She is given associate producer credit on the film.

There are some interesting factual discoveries to be found here for those unfamiliar with her story. She travelled to Pakistan to seek the approval of the family of Dr Khan (Andrews). She used the paparazzi as much as they used her. She and Dr Khan carried on their affair with her wearing wigs or him smuggled into her apartments in her car trunk.

The most astonishing fact of this movie is how splendid the production values are - there is nothing here that looks as if something cheap were standing in for an expensive item. Locations, costumes, the super yacht of Dodi Al-Fayed's on which Diana was famously photographed sunbathing - they all look top-notch.

If only German director Oliver Hirschbiegel had taken as much care with portrayals. Everyone here looks and moves as if he or she was stunned on anaesthetic gas, a look not helped by the even, shadowless lighting and static blocking. Scenes give the effect of an expensive stage pageant.

The stagey look, flat dialogue and even flatter characters speak to an excess of respect for the people named in this bio- pic, either out of sympathy or fear of their lawyers. Her second boyfriend Al-Fayed (Cas Anvar), for example, barely registers here, probably because of his famously combative family.

Which raises the question of why make a biographical movie at all, given the restrictions on how the story can be told. Every biography has to find a narrative line of truth that weaves out of the way of lawyers but stays well inside the zone of entertainment. Here, the line seems to zoom straight into Dullsville.

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