- Released Internationally on 20/09/13
- Released in Malta by KRS on 02/10/13
3-word review: A missed opportunity.
This is by no means a successful, definitive, biopic. Those films are hard to find, and in recent years have often been passed over in lieu of films focusing on specific periods or incidents in famous people’s lives, without ambitiously claiming to be an all-encompassing account of the person’s time amongst the living. The King’s Speech was a wonderfully-executed example of these focused types, whereas The Iron Lady was a rather successful overview of Thatcher from her dawn to her twilight.
Making a modern royal biopic must be quite tricky. A chunk of your intended audience probably have the subject of your film on some pedestal and will carefully scrutinise your every move and see if the film is worthy of its subject. Another chunk hate the idea of a monarchy and will gladly ignore the film or tear it to shreds. But it gets even trickier when your subject is one of the most photographed and public figures of the past decades, and everyone has an opinion about her.
As superficial as it sounds, however, a lot is riding on the resemblance of your main star to the person in question, aided as necessary by prosthetics and makeup. Which is a large part, of course, of why The Iron Lady worked. Naomi Watts, despite her very good acting and wonderfully 80s hairdo, does not look like Diana, and it takes a while for this to sink in and allow you to look past it. In fact some of the best shots in the film feature her from behind or from an angle, and I found myself making a double take to see whether it was archival footage or a carefully re-created scene.
Unfortunately these designed re-enactments of iconic Diana photos and moments are the most enjoyable aspect of the film, since the love story itself feels like a standard soap-opera romance, which could be completely accurate, or mostly conjecture - we might never know. Naveen Andrews (Lost, Sinbad) is confident enough to pull off the role of the heart surgeon who stole Diana’s heart, and Watts manages to combine enough grace and fragility with occasional moments of daring to remind us what a complex person Diana must have been.
It’s interesting to dip back into the mid-90s, in an era of flip-phones, Concordes and cassette tapes, because back then the internet was brand new, and despite Diana’s constant media presence she was spared the endless, permanent internet plastering that some celebrities get today. Which might be why she managed to enjoy this modicum of privacy and have a last few years searching for happiness, albeit away from her sons for long stretches. “My boys need to see me happy”, she said, and at least she gave it a good try.
The cardiac love story plays out as we expect it to, and the film feels like it could end there, but of course it needs to go on a bit longer so that Dodi Fayed (Cas Avnar - Argo) can come into play, and lead things towards that fateful night in Paris. The chilling, famous scenes most of us will recognise provide a powerful coda to this sad tale, but ultimately they fail to lift this film to the incisive portrait it could have been.