A little distance is going to be required here—and not just to accommodate Naomi Watts’s prosthetically widened nose. There’s also the gap between what hate-watchers of Diana might be hoping for and what director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall) has actually provided: a restrained biopic that affords its subject the romantic privacy that life denied her. This means you’ll be watching scenes in which a rejected royal stomps out of her secret lover’s apartment not once but twice, and moments of flirtation on rural roads and between bedsheets of an undoubtedly high thread count. The British press has, like a single organism, wailed. But why not attempt something intimate?
The material comes from Kate Snell’s 2001 book, Diana: Her Last Love, which focuses on an affair with London heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews). In better passages, it plays like a cross-cultural romance, with tensions Hanif Kureishi would seize upon. Watts’s work is extraordinary, sometimes keying off the same illicit register as Mulholland Drive; she risks being goofy, awkward and bratty. Certain lines are cringeworthy (“Use your power—you’re the most famous woman in the world!”), but at least there’s a thematic game plan concerning Diana’s quest for self-worth.
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