Netflix releases a new musical on Princess Diana’s life as she tries navigating the hostile British royalty, from her days of courting Prince Charles to her untimely death years after their separation.
Story: Filmed prior to its official Broadway opening, this musical turns its focus on the life of Princess Diana through her years within the British royal family. From her notorious affairs to her humanitarian works, the musical attempts to uncover the woman behind the public enigma.
Netflix’s Diana: The Musical is an excuse for what we call or have known to be a musical. Though the present rage of basing musicals on real-life figures has been a successful strategy, (example: Cher, Tina Turner and the like), the streaming giant’s latest promotional offering (prior to the much-hyped new season of The Crown) is self-indulgent and thoughtless.
Prior to its actual premiere on Broadway on November 17, the musical chose to debut on Netflix. The musical charts the journey of Diana Spencer (Jeanna de Waal) from her early days of meeting Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf) to her ill-fated marriage, separation and finally, death. The makers have chosen to focus on certain key points about Diana’s life including her affair with James Hewitt (played by Gareth Keegan) and her commendable efforts towards AIDS patients and how selflessly she chose to work for them. This aspect has unfortunately been shot and covered in a very slapdash manner, likening it to support group meetings that one may attend. The story flits through all of Diana's “juicy”, gossipy controversies, all the while treating audience members with an exquisite sartorial treat (mindfully simulated by William Ivey Long). But this express journey through Diana’s life is completely devoid of any introspective insight into her emotional state as a woman struggling with a crumbling mental state, under the constant, unrelenting glare of shutterbugs.
The core of any musical is to elevate the narrative and ensure that each speaks to you. With Diana, the tracks merely act as fillers. Avid Bryan, the main composer, build a world of cacophonous tracks that merely blend into one another to create an amorphous blend of unremarkable numbers. The soundtrack is so average that it’s difficult to retain any song individually. Some of the lyrics affect the musical gravely. Lines like “It's the thriller from Manila with Diana and Camilla," or an inane dig at the crown prince with “there's Charles who is happy when he's hearing music by dead white men,” or yet another senseless (read: harmless) jibe at Diana being the “pretty pretty girl in a pretty pretty dress", thrust the Broadway adaptation into murky waters.
But worthy of mention is the production’s insistence on showcasing the special track that alludes to the infamous 1985 Victor Edelstein gown that the princess wore to the White House where she danced with John Travolta. The casting also exposes massive loopholes and as a result, the performances suffer. Though de Waal’s sonorous vocals seem inviting and even soothing at first, her acting leaves audiences wanting for more. The actress is hardly successful in demystifying the enigma of the crown princess. Superficial and somewhat immature, Waal’s portrayal of the troubled Diana leaves a lot to desire. Her tonality fits perfectly with the themes of vengeance and love, but the actress’ overall appeal falls short of the luminous real-life character that she attempts to portray. Theatre veteran Judy Kaye is ambitiously positioned as Queen Elizabeth II, but her appearance is a stark callback to Harry Potter's Professor Umbridge, rather than the sedate head of state. This odd resemblance makes you wonder if it was a deliberate move on the makers’ part to capitalise on Imelda Staunton's portrayal of the queen in the upcoming season of The Crown.
The only role that serves the purpose of rightfully portraying the real-life counterpart is Erin Davie’s Camilla Parker Bowles. Measured and mature, Davie injects into the character a sense of humane quietude that compels viewers to empathise with the years of silent suffering that she underwent, and the steadfastness she showcased despite being the most hated woman in Britain for a considerable period.
But the contents of the theatrical aside, the making of the Broadway musical is equally half-baked. Director Christopher Ashley hardly gives his audiences any time to register the goings-on in the musical. Odd camera angles, meaningless frames and abrupt cut-aways make for poor viewing.
Verdict: The British royal family has had several on-screen adaptations that have created a considerable impact. Netflix’s Diana: The Musical hardly creates a dent on the already-rich canvas of cinematic literature that the lives of the first family of Britain inspired.