Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the tragic news that Diana, Princess of Wales, had died. In September 1997, I was living with three girls, and one came into my room and woke me up to tell me the news. Immediately I raced into work at the news desk where I was a presenter. Throughout the day, I read the news, sitting in my black coat. Later that week, I joined the masses by laying flowers at the spontaneous shrine that sprung up outside Kensington Palace. I remember wondering why people were taking photographs of the sea of blooms, and now, I marvel at why I never did …
Sixteen years later comes a biopic film starring Naomi Watts as Diana. Watts has twice been nominated for an Oscar and is a highly regarded actress, yet she has received a fair amount of flack for daring to take the role of the woman (then prime minister of the UK) Tony Blair dubbed “the Queen of hearts.”
Is it because the audience still has a fresh and loving memory of the woman who at the time of her death, was the most photographed in the world? That the outpouring of grief following her death was unprecedented, and those who mourned then, still mourn now? Maybe it was inevitable that a woman that famous was bound to be brought to life on screen again.
Diana, the Oliver Hirschbiegel film, centers on the two years before Diana died, the time when she was having an affair with heart surgeon Hasnat Khan. In fact, the film is based on the 2000 book Her Last Love by Kate Snell, which chronicles the affair. Reviewers in the UK have been particularly scornful of the biopic, and I can’t help but wonder if it was released too soon?
Those against the Diana movie argue that it will be wildly upsetting for all those who loved and knew her personally, not least of all her sons, William and Harry. Is it morally questionable to put out this film when her children will be affected by it — especially when they have had no say in it being made? Or is it just another interpretation of the iconic woman who none of us really knew? (We only thought we knew her because her face shone out of every paper and magazine since her engagement to Prince Charles at the age of 20.) Should we not have left Diana in peace, rather than adding to her controversial life and death by creating another story surrounding her?
Those who support the film crucially point out that Idris Elba is championed for his performance as Mandela in the forthcoming biopic Mandela, and Helen Mirren won an Oscar for her portrayal of Queen Elizabeth in The Queen, so what is the problem here? Should we have censorship in our liberal democracy? If we censor the creative arts, where will it end? Many argue that if you don’t like the idea of watching this film, then you don’t have to buy a ticket! Those in favor of the film say that it is only telling a love story, not focusing on the aspects of Diana’s life that caused so much public interest, such as her struggles with bulimia and her unhappy marriage.
Diana was the People’s Princess, someone the British saw as “one of us.” No matter your opinion of the woman, her death was a tragic accident that we all remember vividly. When someone is still so visible in our era, even after death, it begs the question: Why rake up the past again? Diana already was immortal.
Photo credit: IMDB