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Unlawful Killing

Provocative pic about Princess Diana's death should prove catnip to those who posit her demise was suspiciously convenient for the British royals.

With:
With: Mohamed Al Fayed, Princess Diana, Piers Morgan, Kitty Kelley, Michael Mansfield, Howard Stern, Tony Curtis, Tony Benn, Lauren Booth, Mark Steel.

Comedian, thesp and TV presenter Keith Allen apes the populist scourging style of Michael Moore with “Unlawful Killing,” his polemical docu about the 1997 deaths of Princess Diana, Dodi Fayed and their French driver Henri Paul. Provocative pic should prove catnip to those who posit that Diana’s demise was suspiciously convenient for the British royals. Whether huge public interest will translate to ticket sales is less certain, but the title may sell in grocery-store aisles and engage TV auds. U.K. transmission will take a courageous broadcaster: The Royal Family famously never sues, but this occasion might just be the first.

Allen met Egyptian-born businessman Mohamed Al Fayed, father to Dodi, when he made a docu about him for the U.K.’s Channel 4 in 2004. The connection not only inspired this new film but also provided its financing: “Unlawful Killing” is fully funded by the former Harrods owner. Provenance would have been rendered more transparent had Fayed, who appears as an interviewee here, also taken an executive producer credit.

The lengthy 2007 inquest into events surrounding the deaths gives the film its focus and hook. Allen, who presents and narrates, initially adopts an open-minded view of the facts of the matter, but it’s clear that he shares his benefactor’s view that there was a conspiracy and cover-up. The evidence presented is not without merit: Diana wrote a letter to a friend predicting her own demise in a planned car accident; the coroner’s report on driver Paul was botched; there were unexplained delays in taking Diana to a hospital in Paris. These facts do not become more compelling by having them repeated by celebrity interviewees such as Kitty Kelley, Piers Morgan and Tony Blair’s sister-in-law Lauren Booth, but these names will presumably provide a marketing assist.

Pic strays into Moore territory with stunts such as Fayed burning his Harrods royal crests in front of son Dodi’s mausoleum, and a montage cut to jaunty country tune “Little Bitty.” Yet Allen lacks Moore’s contagious wit, and laughs come largely at the film’s own expense, for example when the royals are angrily dubbed “gangsters in tiaras,” and Prince Philip is diagnosed by one clinical psychologist (who has presumably not met him) as a classic psychopath. Overall, the scattershot nature of Allen’s speculations doesn’t serve his cause.

Although there is very little new in “Unlawful Killing,” this is Allen’s thesis: All the evidence is hiding in plain sight, and the supine and biased media are failing to report it. Docu does make one telling point: Many people believe the inquest reached a verdict of accidental death, with the paparazzi a contributing factor. In fact, the verdict was unlawful killing, caused by ambiguously phrased “vehicles in pursuit.”

Tech credits, including dramatic reconstruction of the inquest, are appropriately televisual. Dave Stewart’s score is disappointingly generic.

Unlawful Killing

U.K.

Production: An Allied Stars and Associated Rediffusion Prods. production. (International sales: Locomotive Distribution, New York.) Executive producers, Victor Lewis-Smith, Paul Sparks, Brian Basham. Co-producers John Warburton, Miranda Glasser. Directed by Keith Allen. Co-directors, Lewis-Smith, Roger Pomphrey. Written by Victor Lewis-Smith, Paul Sparks.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen, HD), Steve Robson, Matthew Cooke, Mike Parker; editor, John Warburton; music, Dave Stewart; researcher/undercover reporter, Richard Wiseman. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (market), May 13 2011. Running time: 92 MIN.

Cast: With: Mohamed Al Fayed, Princess Diana, Piers Morgan, Kitty Kelley, Michael Mansfield, Howard Stern, Tony Curtis, Tony Benn, Lauren Booth, Mark Steel.

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