'Diana' is a royal waste of time and talent

05:00 AM, Oct 31, 2013

Naomi Watts stars as Diana, Princess of Wales, in 'Diana.' Laurie Sparham, Entertainment One Films/


Written By by Claudia Puig, USA TODAY

Princess Diana had enough to contend with in life without Diana (* ½ out of four; rated PG-13, opens Friday in select cities).

This wrongheaded biopic that bears her name does nothing to burnish her legacy.

In fact, the tedious movie lacks any insight into the characters involved, and surely would have the late Princess of Wales rolling in her grave. And it can’t be easy on her sons to see their mother depicted in such a one-dimensional fashion.

The film’s focus is on her final years when she was no longer married to Prince Charles and purports to show her trying to lead a normal life.

Clumsily, the film centers on her allegedly anguished romance with a Pakistani heart surgeon. But it feels like empty, glossy hagiography crossed with a Harlequin romance. And, worse, it can indulge in inane dialogue and shoddy storytelling without worrying that either of those involved will lodge a complaint.

Naomi Watts who plays Diana, usually chooses better films. It would be hard to resist playing the beloved British princess, who died in a car crash in Paris in August 1997. But one wonders if she read the script.

Screenwriter Steven Jeffrey’s dialogue is tin-eared and Watts, one of the top actresses of her generation, is so tamped down and bland that you can almost feel her regret for taking the role. She fairly approximates the cadence of Diana’s speech and some facial expressions and movements, but it amounts to mimicry more than a performance. She looks and sounds like Diana, but this is practically a wax museum impersonation, offering nothing beyond the superficial similarities.

Plus, while it tries to show Diana’s normal life — she cooks, she jogs, she plays the piano — the portrayal lacks any perspective. The story also makes her look pathetic. She repeatedly practices her line about their being three in her marriage — before a TV interview — sitting in front of a mirror. Even worse, director Oliver Hirschbiegel bookends the film with scenes foreshadowing her death.

Naveen Andrews is stiff and high-handed as Hasnat Khan, the reclusive physician she fell for. The pair, who met in 1995, lack any chemistry.

The drippy story makes much of the constant presence of the paparazzi following her every move, but the overall effect becomes as sensationalized as their coverage.

Hirschbiegel — who made the stunning 2004 film Downfall about Hitler’s final days — achieves a rare feat, fashioning a film that is overly sedate and frivolous in equal measure.

It used to be an insult to say that something felt as if it were made for TV. But with all the great television being made these days, it would be wrongful praise for this soppy snoozefest.

A limply told tale, Diana is a puff piece that does no justice to anyone involved.