Story by Ada Tseng.
Naomi Watts and Naveen Andrews star in Diana, released November 8, a biopic about a secret love affair that the Princess of Wales had with a British Pakistani heart surgeon before her untimely death in 1997.
The 2013 film Diana, directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and based on Kate Snell’s 2001 book Diana: Her Last Love, begins with the camera following Diana into different rooms and down corridors of the exquisitely-decorated palace where she lived alone after her separation from Prince Charles. Because we don’t see her face, there’s not only a sense of mystery but also a foreboding feeling, especially in a moment when she stops abruptly to look to see if anyone’s following her and we’re not sure why.
It’s a fitting beginning for a real-life inspired film in which we already know the tragic ending: the paparazzi chase that ended in a 1997 car crash that killed both Diana and her rumored lover, Dodi Fayed. While it was the biggest media story of the time, most assumed that Fayed was the only man in the picture, and it wasn’t until later that it was revealed that Fayed may have been more of a fling. That the man she was actually in love with was Dr. Hasnat Khan, a British Pakistani heart surgeon that she had secretly been dating for two years until they broke up in June 1997. She passed away in August.
The story of a secret love between a doctor who fiercely valued his privacy (Khan has still refused to talk about their relationship publicly, over 15 years later) and one of the most famous women in the world is the subject of this film, which takes place in the last few years of Diana’s tumultuous life.
Diana plays a little bit like an earnest teenage romance, for better or worse. The moments of sneaking around inspire the giddiness akin to sneaking out of your bedroom at night to meet your high school crush. She dons a long brunette wig so she can go out in public without being recognized, her cover story for seeing Khan at the hospital is that she is there visiting patients in need, and at some point she climbs over a back fence avoid paparazzi at Khan’s front door and tears her pantyhose. They share quotes from literature with each other; to his surprise, she knows one from the Quran that she learned as she was doing research for one of her previous diplomacy trips. There’s even a moment where she screams his name from the street outside his place, hoping he’ll stick his head out of his two-story window.
Symbols, while appreciated, are displayed wrapped in adorable bows. The heart surgeon believes that you can die of a broken heart. The princess haunted by dreams of falling (being dropped or flying, defined differently depending on her feelings about love at the time), wonders if anyone will be able to catch her. And Khan’s love for jazz music, which Diana is excited to explore, ultimately represents the importance of improvisation outside of the princess’ otherwise structured life.
Overall, Naomi Watts successfully captures familiar mannerisms of the Princess of Wales, and Naveen Andrews (Lost, The English Patient) is as dashing as ever, as the dapper physician who quickly captures her attention at the hospital. It’s easy to see why she’s taken by the serious-minded, career-focused man who is generally very contained except in the fleeting moments when he dares to dream that they can meld their completely-opposite lives.
But Diana shines most in the moments when the film dabbles (albeit lightly) into the complexities of their relationship. The princess visits Pakistan to seek Khan’s Muslim skeptical family’s approval, and while she eventually wins them over (the princess can win anyone over), it’s not so simple. He cannot marry her without marrying the entire world. At one point, while his family member doubts Khan will be able to continue to practice normally as a surgeon if he marries her and tells him he has to choose, he jokes that Khan marrying Diana would be great for Pakistan! The doctor might love her, but is that enough? The fact that we might never know is what makes this story of star-crossed lovers perfect fodder for a dramatized Hollywood movie.
Diana opened on November 1 and is playing worldwide. For more information, go to the film’s official website.
This story was originally published on asiapacificarts.usc.edu.