Creating a fictionalized account of a highly suspect conspiracy theory is a tricky proposition, but 10 years after the tragic death of Princess Diana, fascination with the royal phenom shows no signs of letting up. Lifetime is counting on this sustained interest to lure auds to its salacious new original movie, “The Murder of Princess Diana,” based on the bestseller by Noel Botham.
Pic will draw the fanatical as well as the morbidly fascinated and mildly curious, but paranoia is required to actually consider this particular account of events. Apparently, there are enough inconsistencies surrounding the Paris car accident that killed Diana, her boyfriend Dodi Al-Fayed and chauffeur Henri Paul to arouse suspicion in 31% of British citizens and warrant an inquiry by the British High Court this October. However, the evidence presented here, albeit in a slickly produced and earnestly acted movie, is sketchy at best.
“House’s” Jennifer Morrison stars as Rachel Visco, an American journalist and sometime royals watcher who gets a tip that Di and Dodi are in Paris and about to announce some big news. On the scene in hopes of getting the story, Rachel runs into her ex-lover, French police Lt. Thomas Sylvestre (Gregori Derangere), who is working security detail for the couple.
Rachel notices an unprecedented amount of suspicious activity around the couple — specifically, lots of shady characters in suits looking sideways at one another — and follows the throngs of paparazzi that tail the princess on that fateful night. A witness to the events leading to the car crash, Rachel is uneasy about misinformation surrounding the ensuing investigation. She writes her own account of the crash and probes for further information with the help of Thomas, who after some cajoling, and eventual canoodling, also believes in some kind of cover-up.
At one point, a high-ranking British diplomat tells Rachel that her theory is a “good story, and you even had a nice little moral at the end.” But the main problem here is that writers Emma Reeves and Reg Gadney never really come up with any moral nor, most importantly, any real motive, alternately proving and disproving their own theories about celebrity, power and the public fascination with both.
Granted, royals have been killed throughout history for much less than presumably unacceptable romances or pregnancies, but the across-the-board conspiracy theorized here is hard to swallow. It all hinges on the premise that the CIA, MI6, arms dealers and the French police care about the legacy of an ineffectual and antiquated monarchy angered by Diana’s “scene-stealing humanitarianism.”
The film sidesteps any direct mention of the queen and Prince Charles but pretty much points the finger in that general direction. As for Diana herself, she’s glimpsed briefly through the adoring throngs and the far-reaching speculations of Rachel.
Morrison (who looks like a younger Marg Helgenberger) makes for an appealing lead albeit a questionable journalist, while Derangere is a most welcome new French import. Kevin McNally of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise does a nice turn as the icy and cunning Charles David, proving he’s more than a scowling scallywag. Their combined performances rise above the material.
Director John Strickland and lenser Daf Hobson make the most of the script, visually milking the intended paranoia with handheld camera work and clever third-eye angles. Shot on location, in Paris and Luxembourg, the film is at least a visual success.