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TELEVISION REVIEW

In wild pursuit of Diana theories

Fact is embellished with a lot of conjecture in Lifetime's 'The Murder of Princess Diana' and, wow, it's pretty awful.

August 25, 2007|Mary McNamara | Times Staff Writer

It's just as bad as you think it would be and perhaps a little worse. In fact, Lifetime's "The Murder of Princess Diana," one of several TV events acknowledging the 10-year anniversary of Diana's death, is so bad you might actually want to watch it, though I would recommend a little internal fortification. Vodka would work, or Ben & Jerry's. Whatever gets you through a good old-fashioned lowbrow wallow.

The time is August 1997 and "House's" Jennifer Morrison, bless her heart, plays Rachel, a "serious" American journalist for an unnamed British publication who zips over to Paris the moment she hears Diana is in town because she can "just feel" a big story is about to break. And of course it is, only not the one Rachel had in mind (that story being left exasperatingly vague). Rachel is shocked, shocked by the fecklessness of security personnel attending the princess and decides to tail the beleaguered couple herself. "I'm going with you," she tells her photographer friend, hiking up her red dress to straddle his motorcycle. "Something's going to happen. I just feel it."

So our gal Friday winds up in the fateful tunnel just as Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed have their fatal accident, and in a red dress at that. Immediately sensing a conspiracy -- a mysterious white car seemed to have more to do with the crash than do the paparazzi -- Rachel and her erstwhile lover Thomas (Grégori Derangère), who just happens to be a member of the Paris police force, seek to prove that this was no boating accident, to paraphrase from "Jaws" -- that Diana was murdered.

Presumably by the royal family, though this is carefully never mentioned, and because: (a) she was pregnant, (b) she was going to marry Dodi, who was a Muslim and (c) everyone liked her more than the queen.

All of which may well be true, though Rachel and Thomas certainly do nothing to prove it. What Rachel does is run around Paris, frowning into cellphones, "feeling" things and spouting crazy theories that sound lifted from a book. Which they were: "The Murder of Princess Diana" is an adaptation of Noel Botham's book by the same name, Rachel being a creation to give voice to his various theories, in clichés so timeworn they border on satire. "She was a loose cannon," "celebrity is power," "something's not right," "it's just all wrong," "it's a classic assassination," "we killed her, anyone who wrote about her, anyone who read about her."

Paris looks terrific, though.

Clearly, Morrison took this project in the hopes of stepping out of "House's" shadow, but with a script like this one, she had no chance. None. We can only be thankful they allowed her to be an American journalist (which really makes no sense) so she didn't have to do a British accent.

Observing every three minutes that the Ritz is "crawling with spooks," Rachel is one of those journalists who appear only in cheesy fiction -- blithely reporting rumor as fact, she nonetheless has excellent sources. Within minutes of arriving in Paris, she has bumped into three key players surrounding Diana, one of whom is a handsome love interest. Possibly this happens to Christiane Amanpour, but no one else, and for the record, there is not a news organization standing that would put a journalist up at the Paris Ritz for an indefinite period of time on a hunch. In case you were wondering.

More disturbing, however, is the careless license this film seems to take with facts -- it's one thing to posit theories about what might have happened in a darkened tunnel, and witness accounts do vary. It's another to weave into real events wholly fictionalized ones -- including threats to Rachel's and Thomas' lives and veiled admissions by unidentified top British officials -- that would indeed indicate a conspiracy. Lifetime seems to be using its sob sister reputation in a fairly cynical way here; just because it's a trashy movie doesn't mean it should get away with murder. Or libel.

But that is apparently where we stand, 10 years after Diana's death. The grief has abated, and whatever questions were left in the wake of the accident have been moved from True Crime to Camp. The most famous woman in the world is left to the hands of biographers like Tina Brown, cannibalizing the very image she helped create, and movies like this one. Something's not right. It's just all wrong. It's time to let the princess go. I just feel it.

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mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

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'The Murder of Princess Diana'

Where: Lifetime

When: 9 tonight

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