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Princess Diana Biopic Draws Bad Reviews in U.K.

Diana Trailer Screengrab - H 2013
Naomi Watts as Princess Diana in "Diana"

"Diana" star Naomi Watts also comes in for criticism from some reviewers, with one saying "Wesley Snipes in a blonde wig would be more convincing."

LONDON – Diana, a biopic starring Naomi Watts as Princess Diana, on Friday drew mostly negative reviews from British papers, with critics citing the script and dialogue as areas of concern and, in some cases, also the performance of the lead.

The film premiered in London on Thursday and will open in theaters here later in the month. It is scheduled for a limited nationwide release in the U.S. on Nov. 1, distributor Entertainment One has said. The movie about the last two years of the princess' life will have an expanded release in subsequent weeks.

Robert Bernstein and Douglas Rae produced the movie via their company Ecosse Films. Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel based on a screenplay by playwright Stephen Jeffreys, it is inspired by the book Diana: Her Last Love by Kate Snell. Lost's Naveen Andrews stars as heart surgeon Hasnat Khan, with whom Diana had an affair.

The Times of London called the film's script "squirmingly embarrassing," but said Watts did "her level best" with the cards she was dealt. Overall, though, it called the movie "atrocious and intrusive."

"I hesitate to use the term 'car crash drama,'" wrote The Guardian's critic. "But the awful truth is that, 16 years after that terrible day in 1997, [Diana] 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 dialog – a tabloid fantasy of how famous and important people speak in private."

The Guardian also had a mixed take on Watts' performance. "Watts' elaborate impression has...the doe-eyed gaze of seduction and reproach," the paper said, but concluded that "she looks like she's in a two-hour Spitting Image sketch."

The Independent review was less scathing. "Diana works well enough as a dark romantic drama and is far less exploitative than it might have been," the paper wrote, calling Watts' portrayal of the princess "intense and volatile."

But it also concluded: "The historical accuracy of Diana is bound to be questioned. What makes it frustrating as a film, though, are its many sudden shifts in mood. Perhaps, Hirschbiegel could have made a stronger film if he hadn’t been lumbered with the baggage that the real Diana brings and had simply told a fictional story about a love affair between a princess and an outsider. That, though, would have defeated the purpose."

In other U.K. reviews, The Daily Mirror called Diana "a cheap and cheerless effort." It also said, "The Queen of Hearts has been recast as a sad-sack singleton that even Bridget Jones would cross the street to avoid."

About Watts' ability to channel Diana, it said, "Wesley Snipes in a blonde wig would be more convincing."

The Telegraph's review concluded: "It’s hardly fascinating. It doesn’t offer new facts about the princess’ life. And it certainly doesn’t explain her complexity or contradictions. That would take a different, better film altogether."

Meanwhile, the Daily Express was much more positive than other papers here. It called Diana "a must-see" movie that "will leave the audience in tears."

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai