As I walked down the red carpet last night, I was slightly concerned about seeing a film that has faced so much controversy in the lead up to the premiere. The director, Oliver Hirschbiege (known for Downfall), addressed the criticism at the start, by asking the audience to leave our baggage behind, forget whether we are a royalist or not, and just relax and watch the film. I did just that.
Usually, I find that films fail the book they are adapted from, but in the case of Diana, the precision and detail of Kate Snell’s investigative work was reflected on the big screen. In 2000, Kate Snell disclosed to the world in her book Diana Her Last Love, Princess Diana’s secret love affair with Pakistani heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. The film takes place two years before Diana’s untimely death and is centered on this love affair.
Naomi Watts successfully embodies the elegance and charm of the tragically flawed Diana. She had clearly perfected Diana’s mannerisms such as the head tilt to the left, the large doughy eyes and her confident and elegant stride. The scenes between Diana and Hasnat are believable, and the two actors portray their character’s cultural and personality differences effectively – Diana, no religious faith, a rebellious dreamer and the most photographed woman in the world, and Hasnat a Muslim, realist and intensely private. Andrews and Watts encourage the audience to approve of the relationship and want it to survive, even though we all knew it was destined for failure.
In the second half of the film, when Diana starts to lose control over the relationship with Hasnat, Watts skilfully transforms her character into the vulnerable, needy, childlike Diana that existed beneath the confident façade. Watts’ defining moment is the reenactment of the Martin Bashir interview – it is clear she had watched it repeatedly in order to capture the essence of Diana through her phasing, gestures and mannerisms. It was at this point that I forgot I was watching Watts and it was Diana on the screen.
In the book, Kate Snell documented Diana’s visit to Hasnat’s family in Pakistan, where she was desperate to prove she was the right woman for Hasnat, despite the fact that she was not Muslim. Snell shows how Diana fell in love with the family and the country, and it is here that Hirschbiege creates a little bit magic in the film – showing a free spirited Diana dancing through the night with Hasnat’s family in their Lahore compound. The moment is bittersweet as we see the life Diana could have inhabited, had the relationship survived.
As with any real life portrayal one always questions its authenticity, but it is important to acknowledge that the film is adapted from a well-researched book, based on firsthand accounts with Hasnat’s family and some of Diana’s closest friends.
“I met with Hasnat… he said, ‘If you want to know the story, you’ve got to go and speak to my family… That’s what I did. I got to know the family… They had their own relationship with Diana.” Kate Snell
Of course no one knows exactly what happened behind closed doors and as for the palace scenes, for instance, the writer and director had to rely on instinct to create Diana and Hasnat’s dialogue and movements. Hasnat is not someone we really know, but he comes across as a credible character in the film. However, there were scenes where the script could have been sharper and I couldn’t help thinking – Diana wouldn’t have said that – but then again Diana remains an enigma, so does anyone really know who she was or what she would have said?
The film goes on nationwide release on 20thSeptember and the book is on sale now so make sure you read it before you head to the cinema.