London, Sept. 6: The Daily Mail, in common with other British newspapers, does not think very much of Diana, the new Hollywood movie which had its premiere in Leicester Square in London last night.
In a headline not especially flattering to the Hindi film industry, it sums up the effect as: “Barbara Cartland meets Bollywood in dire Diana tale”.
The “tale” is the unlikely but ultimately doomed two-year love affair between Diana, Princess of Wales, who was killed in a car crash in a Paris tunnel 16 years ago, and the Pakistani heart surgeon, Hasnat Khan.
The papers are agreed that at last night’s well attended premiere the actress Naomi Watts, who plays Diana, looked dazzling in diamonds and a shimmery white gown, with a revealing slit running down the site.
There was less attention devoted to the British Indian actor, Naveen Andrews, who has been cast as Hasnat.
But Andrews, known globally for his role in the American soap, Lost, gets it in the neck from Christopher Tookey in the Mail.
Again using Bollywood as a term of abuse, he writes: “Naveen Andrews resembles not so much Mr Khan, but Bollywood’s idea of what Khan should have looked like: a dishy doc and smouldering love god, not the overworked, paunchy medic Diana admired.... Changing him into the kind of guy you see in a Vogue fashion spread makes the affair less interesting, not more.”
The real Hasnat, who now works quietly in a cardiac unit in Basildon, Essex, has distanced himself from the film.
He has made it clear in a statement that he will not watch the movie: “Most of it is going to be based on gossip, and if I watched it I would be sitting there saying, ‘That’s wrong, that’s wrong, that’s not right,’ every second. I couldn’t put myself through that. It would be absolutely terrible.”
“Stephen Jeffreys’ script inadvertently turns the good doctor into a petulant, unsympathetic figure, unwilling to put love before career,” adds Tookey. “He is much given to windy inanities such as ‘You don’t perform the operation, the operation performs you’. Frankly, he doesn’t seem all that bright.”
He goes on: “The dialogue is not subtle, and tends towards the expository.... It’s directed without panache, lightness of touch or the slightest aptitude for romance, by the German Oliver Hirschbiegel.”
The real Diana, who apparently called her lover “Mr Wonderful”, was said to have been desperate to marry him. There was a Bollywood link in their relationship — it was reported she took out Hindi film DVDs to obtain a better understanding of her man and of Islam.
The Mail has been unkind enough to publish a snatched photograph of a grossly overweight Hasnat doing the bins at home this week. The years have not proved kind, alas, at least to his figure which now resembles that of a portly butcher bound for the operating theatre where Hasnat wields the knife.
This morning the switch knives have all been wielded by British film critics but, in a way, that was only to be expected. If the Diana legacy is to be exploited, they would much rather British newspapers make money out of the departed Princess.
In a curious way, the acres of space given today to describing just how the film differs from the real Princess may have the Chennai Express effect: damned by the critics, watched by the masses. It is pretty much certain millions in Britain will go to see the biopic, partly because she remains and will forever remain Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe and partly because of the advance publicity.
A review in The Times, which gives the film one star out of five, praises Watts for “doing her level best with a squirmingly embarrassing script” but adds that “this film is still atrocious and intrusive”.
Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw writes: “I hesitate to use the term ‘car crash cinema’. But the awful truth is that, 16 years after that terrible day in 1997, she has died another awful death. This is due to an excruciatingly well-intentioned, reverential and sentimental biopic about her troubled final years, laced with bizarre cardboard dialogue — a tabloid fantasy of how famous and important people speak in private.”
In his one-star review, Mirror critic David Edwards writes that it can “only be described as a fabulously awful film”.
Of all the papers, it is the Mail which realises Diana, the film, marks a landmark. Others will follow.
Tookey feels Diana, which goes on general release on September 20, “has the slightness of a Barbara Cartland novella, but the love affair is treated with ponderous solemnity, as though it were another Gone With The Wind. It’s slow and terribly, terribly dull.”
He concedes, however, that Naomi Watts, 44, “is the sixth and easily the best actress to play Princess Diana. Every effort has been made to dress and make her up to look like Diana, but Watts is noticeably at least five inches too short, nowhere near as athletic in her build, and eight years too old.”
The knife is never far away. “Most of all, Naomi lacks the star quality of Diana, her ability to look photogenic from every angle, her miraculous ability to wear clothes and make them look the best they ever could be. What she lacks, fatally, is glamour.”