Deborah Ross

If it were any better, it would actually be a terrible pity: Diana – The Musical reviewed

Plus: another South Korean gem in which nothing happens and everything happens

If it were any better, it would actually be a terrible pity: Diana – The Musical reviewed
Jeanna de Waal stars as a Diana who has been styled to look like Clare Balding. Image: © Netflix / Everett Collection / Alamy Stock Photo
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Diana: The Musical


Moving On


This week, an excellent film (Moving On) and a film that isn’t at all, but is entirely worth it as it’s one of the super bad ones that don’t come along too often. It’s the kind that, if it were any better, it would actually be a terrible pity. (See also: Cats.) It’s Diana: The Musical and it’s two hours of ‘whaaaaaat?’ and pinching yourself that this is really happening. (After two hours I was black and blue, with the pinching.) I don’t know what the best lyric is but ‘Harry, my ginger-haired son, you’ll always be second to none’ has to be up there. (Also: ‘It’s the Thrilla in Manila but with Diana and Camilla’ has to be in the game. The top spot is highly contested.)

It is wonderfully unfathomable on every level. It is the Broadway show filmed in an empty theatre last summer while the production was on pause due to the pandemic. But it returns to Broadway next month, so why they’re releasing this now is most peculiar. And if that’s not peculiar enough, the music and lyrics have been co-written by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan. (When James Hewitt takes Diana to bed, we have this lyric: ‘James Hewitt, he did do it…’) Meanwhile, the British musical actress Jeanna de Waal stars as a Diana who has been styled to look like Clare Balding. No disrespect to Clare Balding, but I ask you: did anyone ever mistake Princess Diana for Clare Balding?

I could go on and therefore will. The oft-told narrative — this doesn’t say anything new — tells us she was a shy 19-year-old virgin who didn’t know what she was letting herself in for when she married Prince Charles (Roe Hartrampf), then it speeds through events like a deranged Wikipedia entry. It is spectacularly superficial yet, still, everyone keeps blurting out their psychological state, as if we’re not getting it somehow. When it tackles matters like the self-harming, the bulimia or the visits to Aids patients it feels so exploitative your toes curl. An American-sounding Barbara Cartland (Judy Kaye, who also plays the Queen) randomly pops up as, I think, the intended comedy element, which falls flatter than flat.

The cast do their best but can’t win against the material or the fact this looks as if Ms Balding really should have stuck to presenting Crufts. The (often nonsensical) songs are an indistinguishable blur as rhymes are strained, and the Queen is given a song (‘An Officer’s Wife’) that makes her sound like a demented Mills & Boon heroine. As for our lyric contest, I think another contender has to be the one delivered by the trench-coated paparazzi: ‘Snap, click, snap, click, won’t you admit, your storybook marriage is going to shit.’ That has to be up there but I don’t think we can say it’s the winner. Too much competition.

Let’s move on to Moving On, a Korean film about a father (Heung-ju Yang) and his two children — a teenage girl (Choi Jung-un) and her younger brother (Seung-jun Park) —who move in temporarily with his father. And that’s about it really. Nothing happens, but everything happens, as we slowly get to know everybody and the children slowly get to know their grandfather. It’s a gem. The grandfather is not well and is near-silent, but we understand he is happy to have his family around him, and just watching him water his vegetables is unbelievably tender somehow.

There is no blurting about anyone’s emotional state, yet it is filled to the brim with emotion. We don’t know why the mother left but when the boy returns from seeing her, we understand how painful this is for his sister, not by what she says, but by what she doesn’t. A lively aunt turns up and, again, we gradually come to comprehend her situation without anything being spelled out. Written and directed by Dan-bi Yoon, the film gives the characters the space they need and the two hours fly by as you become invested in every detail of this family’s life. (Will the dad sell any knock-off trainers from the back of his van today? Will he?) Parasite, Minari, this. I may just watch South Korean cinema from now on.