There’s a myopia to “Diana,” the new film about the divorce and last great romance of Princess Diana’s life, that fits its subject like one of Diana’s signature, custom-tailored gowns.
Isolated, focused on her image, her few contacts with the outside world and her work, when this lonely and lovelorn woman (Naomi Watts) zeroes in on something or someone, it seems obsessive, smothering and all-consuming.
Lump it with a Lifetime original movie if you want, but this film from the director of the Fuhrer bunker drama “Downfall” gives us insights into this poor little royal plaything that Americans, at least, will find eye-opening.
Based on “Diana, Her Last Love,” by Kate Snell, Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film depicts a manipulator practicing her most withering lines about her failed marriage to Prince Charles in front of a vanity mirror.
“There were three of us in this marriage,” she famously told her TV interrogator. “So it was a bit crowded.”
But she has a gift for empathy, and it’s much more than just her image. That empathy leads her to cool and charming heart surgeon (Naveen Andrews).
The film shows us a creature in hot pursuit of the one man underwhelmed by her celebrity until he is overwhelmed by the press, the culture clash and the demands of a woman who can have whatever she wants.
What the movie wants us to remember is the misery of being stalked by a fanatical gossip press (which Diana manipulates, from time to time), the gutsy way she used her fame to do good, pushing for an international ban on land mines, and her almost superhuman ability to respond to people in pain.
Watts masters Diana’s look – the way she carried her head and used those wide, coyly expressive eyes – but is only passable at impersonating the voice. It’s a studied performance that doesn’t give away the wheels turning as Diana plays the angles to try and get what she wants out of the royal family, the press, her lover and her life.
It is too superficial and flattering to pass muster with the British press, which had both an ownership stake and a hate-love affair with her. But “Diana” vividly captures the shrinking world in which she lived.