Television Review

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"HURR... WE'RE going to get a frazzled Mummy back," says Harry teasingly, as the Royal princes prepare to say goodbye to Princess Diana in an airport lounge. She is heading to bask in the sunshine of the south of France with Dodi al-Fayed; they princes are heading for Balmoral and will never see her alive again. In terms of tact, then, this supposition about their last conversation leaves something to be desired.

However, singling out lapses of taste in The People's Princess, Channel 5's dramatised account of Diana's final year, would be as pointless as trying to detect fly spots on a cow pat. Kelvin McKenzie's debut as a television producer wasn't just bad - it was awe-inspiringly bad, a Grand Canyon of dramatic trash.

The Grand Canyon isn't nearly as funny though. I suppose it might be possible to be indignant about this exploitation of a young mother's death or about the shameless hypocrisy with which tabloid journalists are demonised by a production which exactly replicates their indifference to human feeling, but laughter is the only appropriate response. Besides, I defy even the most devout worshipper at the shrine of Diana to have kept a straight face through some of the dialogue. Imagine a 1950 commercial for breath-freshener - one of those in which an anxious woman consults her friend about her inexplicable dating problems - then take away any vestigial shreds of wit or psychological realism and you will have something close to the arthritic exchanges of The People's Princess. Mostly the advert was for Diana's unalloyed victimhood but, from time to time, the script seemed to have been sublet to a third party. I don't know whether Mohamed al-Fayed put money into the production, but he got a makeover anyway, being represented here exactly as he represents himself - a man of unimpeachable integrity whose only thought was for the happiness of the princess. Even stranger was a brief scene during Diana's visit to Jemima Khan: "I know that Pakistan is thought of by the West as a brutal and corrupt society", she says thoughtfully, "but what's it really like?". She then gets a brief lecture on the emotional superiority of Muslim life, Jemima's theology headlining the hugs-and-family-cuddles side of Islam. Not wanting to limit her religious options, the producers also include a scene with Mother Teresa, in which the tiny nun (apparently played here by one of the Tetley Tea Folk) effectively hands over her halo, as if the two women are taking part in some spiritual relay race.

It's doubtful whether even brilliant acting could have saved a script this clumsily mechanical - but the experiment wasn't ventured anyway. Amy Clare Seccombe's attempts at pathos were somewhat disabled by the fact that her crying looked eerily like a fit of the giggles while George Jackos appeared to have simply given up in the face of lines which would have been more convincing printed on a poster and waved around over his head: "Perhaps it's time that you found a woman with a bit more class," advises a friend at one point, "someone who could care for you in spite of your money and lifestyle." "I wonder if there is such a woman?" replies Dodi wistfully. For viewers who might have missed the point, the film cuts immediately to Diana playing tennis, paparazzi baying through the wire netting. In terms of performance the laurels would have to go to the island of Mallorca, which served as the Greek islands, Bosnia, Sardinia, Paris and - most ambitious of all - an Angolan minefield. I can't say it was convincing, exactly, but in this company it was Laurence Olivier.

The People's Princess could have learnt some tricks from Peggy Su! (BBC2), not least the fact that it helps to learn tricks from other films. This uneven but aimiable romantic comedy included an Unsuitable Candidates montage (as seen in The Commitments and Shallow Grave), a klutz operating machinery gag (as seen in Jerry Lewis movies passim) and a sense of style bred partly from Fifties movies, partly from exercises in graphic style such as Delicatessen and Ballroom Dancing. Its own tale of romantic misadventure didn't quite come off - not least because it was impossible to be sure exactly which man the Chinese heroine ended up with - but it had its moments, not least a Cantonese rendition of Buddy Holly's hit.

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