Diana is one of the most talked about biopic movies of the year as Naomi Watts takes on the role of Princess Diana in the Oliver Hirschbiegel directed film.
Watts and Hirschbiegel were joined by actor Naveen Andrews, writer Stephen Jeffries and producer Robert Bernstein in London to talk about the film.
- Robert can you talk about how this movie has been made and funded here in the UK?
Robert Bernstein: There has been quite a lot of the press saying that this is a Hollywood biopic. But this is a film that has been produced by a British company, Ecosse Films, and independently financed. We also had a co-production with Belgium and Sweden, and we also worked in Croatia, Mozambique as well as Pakistan.
So all of that allowed us to make the film independently and without any outside interference and to create the vision that everyone on this panel had. So it is really important that everyone in this room realises that this is an independently financed British film, about a British icon, treated with great sensitivity and respect.
- Stephen can you tell me about the process of adapting Kate Snell’s book Diana Her Last Love? You have stayed faithful to the book.
Stephen Jeffries: I actually met Princess Diana, very briefly, and that gave me the confidence to write - I don’t think I would have been able to do that. The first thing that struck me when I met her was that she was more intelligent than she was ever given credit for; that was a guiding light for me.
I wasn’t familiar with her relationship with Hasnat Khan and so reading Kate’s book it was as if you were looking at a familiar picture from a completely different perspective.
From the point of view of the relationship with Hasnat Khan, it did make a lot of things in Diana’s life make sense for me; this life-long search for love and she found a man that could fulfil that.
But then that also opened up a key to the world as it opened up the landmines and her whole social concern suddenly had a different focus.
The great tragedy is that they couldn’t be together, but it was no one's fault. There are movies like Casablanca, where it is no one's fault, and that is what makes it a great love story. Their two lives were incompatible. And even when she lost this great love, she had found something beyond that as she was never lonely again.
- Naveen what was your initial reaction to this very intimate character study and this very touching love story? As we don’t get too many of them on the big screen these days.
Naveen Andrews: When I first read Stephen’s script the first thing that I thought of was Brief Encounter; which is my favourite love story on film, in the sense that it is impossible. These people do have a connection, but it is just not going to work.
They are two human beings, and it is a very intimate, simple love story between two people; all they want is to be cherished, loved and respected. I haven’t seen that, and I think that our film is unique because we don’t have anything like that.
- Naomi I believed that you deliberated a while before agreeing to take on the role of Diana, so what convinced you to say yes?
Naomi Watts: There were many things but ultimately, the reason why I wanted to say no so much became the reason that I wanted to do it. I was intrigued by the challenge. In the beginning, I just thought ‘how do you take on the most famous woman of our time? When everyone feels they know her so well how do you take possession of that character?’ That was daunting.
I realised that this story was bound to be told at some point. How often do we stumble across such fascinating characters? They are quite hard to find, as a woman.
This is a role that embodies so many different things; fragility, a great strength, unbelievable charisma, great beauty, wisdom and compassion and empathy. There were so many things to play. I thought about it, and I just felt that I couldn’t say no to this.
- Oliver after sixteen years Diana is still very much a part of the British sensibility. As someone who is not from these isles what were your thoughts about the project?
It may sound strange but what I have always wanted to do is a love story; a moving, deep, passionate love story. To my surprise, it came with this project. If you took away the names Diana and Hasnat Khan, it would still work
The fact that the characters were Diana and this man, made it even more fascinating for me. I went and did my own research, and I discovered that this woman was not at all what I thought she was.
- How did the image that you had of Diana change after you did the research for this movie?
Naomi Watts: I obviously knew her well; I wasn’t an avid follower of every single front-page story, but I did see the big important moments. I remember where I was when the wedding took place, and I remember where I was when she died. I remember a lot from in between as well.
Once I had said yes, I had to pretty much saturate myself in everything I could find from the books, which I had never read, old newspaper articles and the footage that was available. I used the Bashir interview a lot - I can’t tell you how many times I listened to that.
It was very helpful because it was the most candidly that she spoke. It wasn’t just about the information that she gave us, but it was also about the way that she spoke. It helped with mannerisms, and the way that she spoke as well. Through this research, I did learn a lot.
It was hard to trust what was true because there is so much, and it is never completely in alignment. I knew that this script was written with thorough research over quite a period of time, I did explore it beyond what Stephen did as well.
I bounced it off several people that know her, and they basically endorsed what was said on the page. The things that meant something to me and that helped me put this character together, were things like her sense of humour; that was a great discovery.
She had this cheeky and mischievous sense of humour, and would crack ice breaker jokes. Obviously, we knew a lot about her compassion and empathy as that was displayed over and over again; you can see that from one single image.
Also this rebellious streak and the real sense of courage - doing the Bashir interview took immense courage. She definitely had a flirtatious spirit and a great charisma.
- You hinted at the start about the things that made you say yes to this project, but I was wondering if there was anything in the screenplay that would have made you say no?
Naomi Watts: I didn’t know anything about this love story, so this was news to me. As Naveen said it was a very pure and simple and real connection that these two people seemed to have; that is a universal story.
I was intrigued by the idea of taking on this globally well known woman, but terrified at the same time because the level of interest is going to be much higher than usual.I am always looking to take risks and move out of my comfort zone; this was that.
Naveen Andrews: Just reading the script gave me a way into looking at Diana as a human being, and also having empathy for this person. So this was a way in to see someone as a human and not have the influences that besmirch my way of looking at the Royals, and look at these people as people.
- What is more important to you, how the film is about to be seen by people who have lived through all the events, and have something to compare it to? Or how it is seen in fifty years time by people who haven’t been born yet and will look at it like we look at Brief Encounter today?
Oliver Hirschbiegel: This is a universal love story, and I have always wanted to tell it - I only hope that it holds. I didn’t want to come up with something that is speculating, comes up with clichés and is dated.
I wanted to deliver a film in a timeless and classy way and in a way that is understood. It is a film about love, humanity, compassion and peace.
As Naveen says, there aren’t many films about that anymore; there were some back in the day, and I enjoyed them very much and, to a certain extent, those films made me the way that I am now. I very much hope that this one does that.
Naomi Watts: You always hope for the best, that the film will stand up in the years to come. But there is just no way of telling. Tonight we are presenting the film to audiences for the first time, and I always find it a scary time. You just never know.
I have seen well executed films not be received well, and I have seen films that were not particularly well executed resonate with an audience. There is just no way of knowing, until it happens. I think that we have been respectful and sensitive to those that are still alive.
I hope that this is just a reminder of good feelings that people had about Diana and that her legacy lives on. I hope that it takes away the confusion of all of those other things that people focus on and remember the great work that she did.