By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Naomi Watts’ leading-lady résumé is lengthy and eclectic.
In a wide array of genres, this British-Australian actress has starred in Mulholland Drive, The Ring, Le Divorce, King Kong, The Painted Veil, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Fair Game, 21 Grams, and The Impossible, among others; was Oscar-nominated for the latter two; and appeared in support in dozens more.
So her casting as lonely and alienated Princess Diana in the real-life royal soap opera Diana, described as the “most famous woman in the world” if not “Princess of Our Hearts,” seems like — and turns out to be – a good match.
Diana is a romantic biographical drama that covers the last two years of Princess Diana’s life, during which the recently divorced princess campaigned against land mines as part of her humanitarian efforts and engaged in a surreptitious and problematic romantic relationship with a Pakistan-born heart surgeon, Dr. Hasnat Khan, played by former “Lost” regular Naveen Andrews.
She hopes for a fresh start, but a combination of her nosebleed-high public profile, the relentlessly invasive paparazzi who follow her everywhere (although she tries to use that to her advantage at one juncture), and family disapproval render their long-range union impossible.
Thus does her rebound relationship with Dodi Fayed come about.
Watts is both graceful and commanding in the role, capturing the Princess of Wales’ body language and speech patterns and bringing to the iconic figure three-dimensional nuance: she’s seen as a vulnerable, empathetic and understandably needy outcast, true, but also obsessive and capable of large-scale manipulativeness.
Taking an earnest and respectful approach that is consistent with Stephen Jeffries’ uneven screenplay, which is based on the book by associate producer Kate Snell, Diana: Her Last Love, and contains plenty of two-people-behind-closed-doors invention, director Oliver Hirschbiegel (Downfall, The Invasion, Five Minutes of Heaven) leaves most of the royal family off screen, perhaps deferentially, and pretty much ignores larger political or historical context.
That keeps things on the tabloid-simplistic superficial side, to be sure, but it also keeps the film relatively free of runaway speculation and sensibly anchored in documented material.
Although the film tries to take us into a lesser-known portion of her life, British viewers will undoubtedly be relatively familiar with the events and conflicts depicted.
But for an American audience, much of the narrative is, if not news, then at least an eye-opening refresher course on the drama of her life.
Throughout the film, we get an obvious and ominous foreshadowing of the tragic circumstances of her eventual 1997 car-crash death in scene after scene where she is hounded by the paparazzi, and the narrative’s Paris bookends lend the film a dying-too-young poignancy throughout.
So we’ll reveal 2½ stars out of 4 for this respectable romantic docudrama. The central performance is Watts best about Diana.