History gets a full Mills And Boon makeover in this uber-fluffy, clumsily fictionalised treatment of Diana, Princess of Wales’ affair with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan.
Purporting to be the truth behind the headlines, its gaggingly sentimental, simplistic story reboots Diana’s complex private life as a star-crossed (or Sun–crossed) love story with The Media as chief villain.
The problem is not that it’s crass or lurid (though there are laugh-out-loud moments involving rumpled bedding and the phrase “I love it when you put your hand there,”), but that it succeeds in making the ’90s’ most notorious clandestine love affair – donning disguises, dodging the press pack – look positively dull.
Director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who humanised Hitler in the scorching Downfall, can’t shake the TV-movie vibe, from the People’s Princess cosily watching Casualty while Khan scoffs a Burger King, or their dreary, screechy rows (“If I marry you, I have to marry the whole world!”).
Only Naomi Watts, delivering an eyelash-fluttering portrayal of Diana as tricky, big-hearted and ruinously impulsive, smuggles some subtlety into the movie. Rehearsing her lines expertly for the headline-making Panorama interview, or bolting from a wolf pack of paparazzi, Watts conveys the harried hell of being the subject of relentless global curiosity.
Naveen Andrews’ moist-eyed, platitude-spouting Khan can’t match her, and the stilted script is quicksand in which they both rapidly sink.
As shallow as The Princess Diana Fountain, the film lacks the resonant deeper themes of icon-portraits The Queen and The Iron Lady, which wrestled with ideas of duty and ambition. Instead it clings to a risibly rose-coloured view, where bunny-boiling tendencies (Diana stalks Khan, breaks into his flat to clean it, and arranges paparazzi shots with Dodi Fayed to make him jealous) are shown as loveable lapses.
Diana takes a life lived on an operatic scale, and reduces it to a sickly soap-opera.
A tasteless, breathless Hello-tastic romance that plays fast and loose with the facts. Any more creepily reverential, and it would be curtseying.