LONDON – Critics savaged “Diana,” a biopic of the late princess of Wales who died in a Paris car crash 16 years ago, just hours after its world premiere Thursday.
Lead actress Naomi Watts has already defended her involvement in the controversial film, which follows Diana’s romance with London-based Pakistani surgeon Hasnat Khan.
But within hours of the premiere, a string of merciless reviews in the British press shattered the party spirit. The Times praised Watts for doing “her level best with a squirmingly embarrassing script” but concluded that the film was still “atrocious and intrusive.”
“Poor Princess Diana,” wrote The Guardian’s critic, Peter Bradshaw. “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.”
The Daily Telegraph gave the film two stars — one more than both The Guardian and Times — but was also withering in its assessment. “What’s the point of ‘Diana?’ ” reviewer Davis Gritten asked rhetorically.
Based on Kate Snell’s 2001 book “Diana: Her Last Love,” the film suggests that the princess started dating Dodi Fayed, whom many friends of the princess say was her true love, to make Khan jealous. That claim is challenged by many who were close to the princess.
Diana and Fayed died when the car in which they were traveling slammed into a pillar in a Paris road tunnel in 1997 while being pursued by press photographers. Diana and Prince Charles divorced in 1996 after 15 turbulent years of marriage that produced two sons, Princes William and Harry.
Watts, dressed in a figure-hugging white gown, was joined on the red carpet at London’s Leicester Square by British-Indian actor Naveen Andrews, who plays her on-screen lover.
The British-Australian actress, who came to prominence in the 2001 film “Mulholland Drive,” admitted she had taken a risk by accepting the role of the “people’s princess.” Asked if she felt the film would offend Diana’s sons, she told BBC TV: “Hopefully, if they get to see the film, they will feel that we have done it in a respectful and sensitive way. We try to honor the depiction of her character in the best possible way.”
But Wednesday, Watts stormed out of a separate interview with BBC Radio, apparently offended by one question. The surprised presenter, Simon Mayo, tweeted that Watts had “seemed a tad uncomfortable with the questions.”
The film has been largely ignored by the royal family.
Some critics have noted that Watts bears little physical resemblance to Diana; she had to wear a prosthetic nose for the film.
She is the only established movie star in the film.