The Razzies have a pretty poor track record when it comes to singling out the true ‘worst of the worst’ from a year in film and are more prone to riding a trend than anything else. Last year, the whipping horse was a Netflix-sanctioned, filmed performance of Diana (the musical). Nominations were spread far and wide, seemingly because no corner of the bizarre production went un-flogged by the public, but it seems unprecedented that a live recording of a stage show would warrant a win (loss?) in the worst screenplay category, especially since musicals don’t have screenplays; they have books. Let’s look at what set Diana so far apart as to warrant a first for the Razzies.
First we should acknowledge a misfortune entirely outside of the show’s control: following the great furor of Cats 2019, audiences and critics alike had been smelling for blood in the water ever since. Dear Evan Hansen bore the brunt of this search, but Diana was perfectly poised, being nearly as misjudged as Cats, for a harangue-ing.
Next, unlike what you might expect from the sombre tale of mental despair and high-society entrapment we know of the people’s princess, Diana the musical is extraordinarily camp, though it doesn’t have the good sense to at least lean into that quality. As The Guardian put it: “If it was deliberate satire it would be genius, but it’s not.” Naturally, many viewers found the ham-fisted attempts at dramatic interjection amidst vapid glitz disrespectful. The production is lathered in Broadway excess, but is nonetheless
unwilling to rescind any pageantry of sincerity, and thereby downplays the real darkness of Diana’s mental state, even as it proports to champion her resolve and tell her story. You could scarcely imagine a better example of the tastelessness many associate with musicals.
This is not only a story that plenty of people hold a personal ownership over, but one which just about everyone is very familiar with, and so a new interpretation, especially in a heretofore untapped form like the musical, would need to go about retelling the story in an out-of-the-box manner. Instead, Diana the musical’s take on the narrative is rote, the treatment’s only defining deviation from her Wikipedia article being in its bizarre cluelessness and tacky lyrical playfulness.
It’s all in the book. Lines jot out and demand admonishment, for instance: Charles: “How about for a start / Don’t act like a tart”, a paparazzo: “Better than a Guinness, better than a wank / Snatch a few pics, it’s money in the bank”, Diana, summarizing her marital woes: “Serves me right for marrying a Scorpio”.
Comparisons to the fresh memory of the excellent staging of Hamilton on Disney+, with its spectacular reimagining of history, didn’t help Diana’s chances, nor did the gothic Spencer shortly thereafter. In short; be careful which stories you adopt, and be militantly conscious of how they’ll play to a modern, ready-to-pounce audience.