She has the tilt of the head, the purse of the lips, and very often she slinks into the once-familiar walk. But what Naomi Watts doesn't get in the woebegone "Diana" is the script or direction to pull off what would have been, even at best, a misbegotten mission: bringing to life a woman who, 16 years after her death in a paparazzi-fueled car crash, remains one of the most famous in the world.
One wants to say "too soon," but 150 years would be too soon for Oliver Hirschbiegel's close-to-comedic treatment of the princess' last chance at happiness. According to Kate Snell's "Diana: Her Last Love," Diana found genuine romance with Pakistani-born heart surgeon Hasnat Khan (Naveen Andrews), kept the affair secret for almost two years, wore a wig, went to jazz clubs, walked across minefields both literal and figurative and ended up using the celebrated dalliance with Dodi Fayed (who died with her in Paris) to try to maneuver the media-shy Hasnat back into her arms.
It's a great story, a fantastic story and apparently a true story. But the fallacy of based-on-reality cinema is that journalistic accuracy lends gravitas to even the most undernourished production. It doesn't. As directed by Hirschbiegel (of the astonishing Hitler film "Downfall"), Diana is outrageously flirtatious with Hasnat, particularly given how scrutinized she is, how circumspect and how mournful over her separation from her children, held virtual hostage by the Windsors. Andrews effects something close to a leer when first encountering Diana, and it's his best moment. Both actors are forced to recite the most saccharine dialogue, as concocted out of Snell's book by Stephen Jeffreys ("The Libertine").
"You reach a place inside yourself where time has no meaning," Hasnat says to Diana, describing their busy, stressed-out, incompatible lives. He's also describing the state of the viewer, about 20 minutes into the movie.
PLOT The alleged true love story of the famously unhappy Princess of Wales, who fell for a London-based heart surgeon two years before her premature demise.
RATING PG-13 (brief strong language, some sensuality and smoking)
CAST Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews, Juliet Stevenson, Geraldine James
BOTTOM LINE Graceless treatment of the late, lamented royal, despite Watts' valiant efforts