Unavoidably - but not unexpectedly, even with a respectable top-lining presence such as Naomi Watts - any attempt at making a biopic of the late princess of Wales, Diana Spencer, would end up like what Diana ultimately is. That is, an handsomely mounted but highly cynical dreamy romance, the big-screen equivalent of those breathless "people" magazine spreads or special issues that commemorate the "official story" of a public figure, picking apart the most banal photograph for tantalizingly tell-tale signs of unknown mysteries. And yet, not just because Ms. Watts is in the lead here, you can see the paths not taken at nearly every turn in German director Oliver Hirschbiegel's Euro co-production.

     Inspired by journalist Kate Snell's book on Diana's affair with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, the film takes place in the period between her tell-all TV interview with Martin Bashir in November 1995 and her death in the fateful Paris car crash in August 1997, and the question of celebrity hangs heavily over the entire enterprise. A key issue in the relationship between Diana and Khan (a stiff, ill-at-ease Naveen Andrews) is the pressures that her being the world's most famous woman put on the couple; throughout the film, though, she is shown to be aware of that fame and not shy of using it for her own purposes, even if most of the time it seems to be an albatross preventing her from truly being herself.

     For all that, though, Diana never really engages seriously any of these issues. It prefers to hide behind the enchanting, Girls' Own Paper dream of a royal affair, with the unhappy princess a caged bird yearning for a normal life she is fully aware she can no longer have. The film trades purely on the official line of the tale of the people's princess, playing to the mythology while only apparently wanting to expose it; Ms. Watts' well-rounded performance makes you forget the lack of resemblance (we're always aware this is Naomi Watts playing Diana) and seems custom-tailored for an entirely different object - even though it's clear the filmmakers had no other film in mind, judging from Stephen Jeffreys' rather clunky scripting and cringingly formulaic dialogue. Nothing more than cheap perfume lavishly packaged as high-end fragrance, Diana is the sort of romantic nonsense British filmmakers knew how to do with conviction 60 years ago but no longer truly believe in nowadays.

Cast: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Douglas Hodge, Charles Edwards, Geraldine James, Juliet Stevenson, Cas Anvar, Daniel Pirrie, Michael Byrne, Art Malik
Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel
Screenplay: Stephen Jeffreys, from the book by Kate Snell, Diana - Her Last Love
Cinematography: Rainer Klausmann (colour, widescreen)
Music: David Holmes, Keefus Ciancia
Designer: Kave Quinn
Costumes: Julian Day
Editor: Hans Funck
Producers: Robert Bernstein, Douglas Rae (Ecosse Films in co-production with Scope Pictures, Le Pacte, Film i Väst, Filmgate Films, B Media Export, in association with B Media Export, Indéfilms, A Plus Image 4 and Palatine Étoile 10)
United Kingdom/Belgium/France/Sweden, 2013, 113 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Zon Lusomundo Alvaláxia 5, Lisbon, September 24th 2013


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