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Aug 3, 2012
[Article] Diana resumes filming at Kensington Palace
By Alison Boshoff
3 August 2012
The resemblance is unsettling. Naomi Watts may be shorter and less beautiful but — as she hesitates at a revolving door in white jeans and Cerruti jacket — she is the image of Princess Diana on her last night.
On the face of it, the Oscar-nominated actress appears to be perfect casting for the £20 million movie ‘Diana’, which is due to be released worldwide in February.
Production started a month ago in Trieste, north Italy, which is being used for the Paris scenes. When Watts and Cas Anvar — who is playing Dodi Fayed — are seen arriving at The Ritz, it will actually be Trieste’s historic Palazzo Stratti building, now the offices of an insurance company.
Sources connected with the film say that it centres on Diana’s two-year romance with the surgeon she called Mr Wonderful — Dr Hasnat Khan. Her fatal car crash in the Pont D’Alma tunnel is not being recreated, as it is not the focus of the movie.
But the scenes of the Princess in the hours just before her death in August 1997 reveal how much effort Ecosse Films has gone to in ensuring that Watts, 43, is a credible Diana.
As well as the film-makers recreating her wardrobe and bouffant hair, the actress has acquired many of Diana’s mannerisms, following a programme of studying her body language.
And she has been working on ironing out her Australian twang, too, with vocal coach William Conache. She has had to lengthen her vowels and make her diction more ‘lazy’ to pass as Diana.
Dr Khan is being played by Naveen Andrews, who is best known for his roles in the TV series Lost and film The English Patient.
Khan and Diana’s ill-fated relationship started as a secret romance and ended just a few weeks before her death — not long after the liaison became public.
Dr Khan found the scrutiny of the world impossible to bear. And in the years since, he has declined thousands of offers to tell his story in interviews, books and TV shows.
I can reveal that he is not cooperating with the new film in any way, although he is ‘aware’ of it. He will almost certainly disapprove, as he has little time for what he calls ‘the Diana industry’.
Another person set to take issue with the film is Mohamed Al Fayed — the father of Dodi.
Their romance will be portrayed as nothing more than a fling, cooked up by Al Fayed for the sake of social climbing and accepted by Diana as a way of making Dr Khan jealous and scandalising the Royal Family.
Al Fayed too, is aware of the film but not involved. (His own film, Unlawful Killing, is unlikely ever to be shown in the UK due to a slew of legal issues. It was aired this year at the Cannes film festival but then withdrawn. Al Fayed’s view is that Diana and Dodi were ‘slaughtered’ by the security services.)
So what story will the new film tell about Diana?
It is widely accepted by her close friends that Dr Khan, who was then working as a heart surgeon at London’s Royal Brompton Hospital, was the man she hoped to marry.
They met in 1995, when Diana went to the hospital to see a friend. After they started seeing each other, she would leave messages for Khan under the code name Dr Armani, and he would visit her at home in Kensington Palace — smuggled in to see her in the boot of a car.
Other doctors at his hospital recall Diana turning up and sitting in the staff room drinking coffee, just waiting and hoping to see him. At other times they would meet with Diana disguised in a dark wig and had liaisons at a home in Stratford-upon-Avon belonging to one of Khan’s relatives.
Dr Khan told the Stevens Inquiry into Diana’s death that at the end of 1996 she asked her butler Paul Burrell to talk to a priest about the possibility of her and Khan marrying in secret.
But when Dr Khan found out, they had an argument with him saying that he felt she was being ridiculous.
In the film, a key scene is said to be in the gardens of Kensington Palace when the couple discuss the possibility of moving to Pakistan to start a new life together.
Diana’s confidante Rosa Monckton said that Diana remained ‘infatuated’ with Dr Khan until her death — and that she was heartbroken when he called off their romance.
The film is paying extremely close attention to detail — although the film makers deny they are going for a complete documentary re-enactment. Pictures of filming show outfit after outfit of Diana’s being recreated. The Versace one-shouldered blue dress she wore to a gala event in Sydney, for instance, is an exact replica.
The new film will tell the story of Diana's romance with the man she called 'Mr Wonderful
For some of Diana’s most romantic moments with Dodi — during a holiday to St Tropez — the rocky Croatian coast around Valdibora bay has been used. Watts was photographed there on a speedboat and in a café.
Filming has now moved to the London area but it’s not known which building will be used for Kensington Palace.
Next will be Mozambique, to cover Diana’s campaigning against landmines.
Just seeing a depiction of the late Princess and her romantic life at the cinema is bound to stir controversy. Until now there hasn’t been anything more than made-for-TV projects about her.
How chastely their liaison will be depicted in the film is a moot point. The producers won’t comment and, anyway, the whole movie has not yet been filmed, let alone edited.
But if they present love scenes with any amount of flesh, there will surely be accusations of bad taste.
A source insists: ‘It focuses on the last two years of her life, on her finding personal happiness and also her transforming herself into an international campaigner and a humanitarian.’
Another, totally separate, Diana film is also being worked on and is due to be filmed next year. It is based on the book by her former bodyguard Ken Wharfe, Diana: Closely Guarded Secret, which came out in 2007 amid a storm over his ‘betrayal’.
Producing it is Stephen Evans, who was behind The Iron Lady. A close source says it will tell the story of Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles and the subsequent divorce — through Wharfe’s eyes.
So is the time right for the films, 15 years after her death? After all, her children, William and Harry, are still relatively young, and there are millions who continue to revere Diana’s memory.
However, following the great successes enjoyed by The King’s Speech, The Queen and The Iron Lady, there is clearly a clamour for this type of movie.
Ecosse Films made Mrs Brown — about Queen Victoria’s relationship with servant John Brown. In that film, incidentally, the pair did nothing more than chastely hold hands when Victoria was on her deathbed.
The new Diana movie, which was originally called Caught In Flight, has been written by Stephen Jeffreys, a Liverpudlian playwright whose greatest success so far is the 2004 movie The Libertine. Starring Johnny Depp, it is about the Earl of Rochester and based on one of Jeffreys’ plays. His Diana script, however, isn’t based on any single book.
Directing the movie is Oliver Hirschbiegel, who won several awards for the 2004 German- language film Downfall. Based on the account by historian Joachim Fest of the last days in Hitler’s bunker, it broke taboos by being the first depiction of the Fuhrer by a German on the big screen. Critics found it compelling — and chillingly accurate.
Naomi Watts was not the first choice to play the lead in Diana. She was asked after Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain, dropped out, citing scheduling conflicts.
British-born Naomi, who moved to Australia when she was 14 and is the best friend of Nicole Kidman, is most famous for 21 Grams — which earned her an Oscar nomination — and the 2005 blockbuster King Kong. Earlier this year she admitted that she had hesitated before accepting the Diana role.
‘The film-makers came to me, and it’s a good script and it’s very scary and I kind of wanted to say no but I couldn’t,’ she said.
‘I saw the wedding and everything, and she is a very inspiring woman. It’s impressive how she sort of changed the whole gearing of the tradition of the Royal Family and opened it up and brought warmth to it.
‘Now I’m doing all the research, and there’s so much to read, I just hope we make a good film and people can learn something new about her that’s interesting.
‘There are a lot of people that knew her and a lot of books to read and so much information, and one story is different to the next, so it’s hard to gauge what was the truth.
‘It’s going to be a tough one. It’s a big beast to take on — I just try to do my best.’
But co-star Naveen Andrews says of Watts: ‘I don’t think anyone else could have done it. There’s no one else. Whenever you work, if something has a chance or the potential to be good it usually starts with a good script, and I’m very happy with the script, and Naomi is doing it and she’s wonderful.’
Earlier this summer, Naomi moved to Kensington to prepare for the role, and was said to have visited Diana’s favourite places — such as Chelsea’s Harbour Club and Knightsbridge’s Beauchamp Place — to help her get into character and to do Diana justice.
Meanwhile the producers are insisting that it will be an ‘insightful and compassionate’ portrayal of Diana in her final years.
But the question remains: are we ready for a retelling of this story when the memories of Diana are still so fresh — and so cherished?