Mike Fleming

Diana Movie Naomi WattsEXCLUSIVE: Entertainment One has acquired U.S. distribution rights to Diana, the Oliver Hirschbiegel-directed drama about a secret love affair that Princess Diana had shortly before her tragic death. With Naomi Watts as the princess, this was one of the higher-profile pictures shopped at the Cannes Film Festival and eOne bought the rights from Embankment Films and Ecosse Films. eOne will also distribute with major releases in the UK, Canada and Spain with the U.S. film coming in Oscar season later this year.

Hirschbiegel helmed the Oscar-nominated Downfall, and screenwriter Stephen Jeffreys wrote The Libertine. Watts, coming off an Oscar nom for The Impossible, stars with Naveen Andrews (best known for ABC’s Lost and The English Patient) in this drama about Diana’s covert love affair with Dr. Hasnat Khan, a Pakistani heart surgeon. This happened in the last two years of her life, before she met Dodi Fayed, and the need for privacy led to her meeting her lover in disguises. This gave her a sense of living an anonymous life, but her incredible worldwide fame became an issue. The film is produced by Ecosse Films’ Robert Bernstein and Douglas Rae.

“We are thrilled to be bringing Diana home from Cannes,” said Dylan Wiley, VP Theatrical Marketing and Distribution, eOne Films US. “Diana will give audiences worldwide a chance to not only fall in love with the Princess all over again, but also discover a part of her life up until now kept out of the public eye. And only Naomi Watts could bring such a modern icon to life, through a truly beautiful and nuanced performance.”

The film was first shown to buyers last Wednesday, at the exact same time that seven minutes of footage was shown on the Judi Dench-starrer Philomena. The latter film sold in a bidding battle to The Weinstein Company, which has several actresses in the Oscar race with Dench, August: Osage County’s Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, The Butler‘s Oprah Winfrey, and Grace Of Monaco‘s Nicole Kidman. Princess lovers will watch the release dates between that film, with Kidman as Monaco princess Princess Grace, and Diana. Women all over dream of being a princess, but it’s expected the first film coronated with a theatrical release might well benefit. The eOne deal certainly puts Watts in the Oscar conversation for later this year.

“Dylan and his team are totally collaborative; they recognize the opportunity for US audiences to discover Princess Diana’s unique voice told through a highly emotional and touching love story. With eOne US the film continues to build on aggressive releases already committed by our other distribution partners throughout the rest of the world,” said Bernstein and Rae.

The deal was negotiated by Tim Haslam for Embankment Films and Ecosse Films and Jo Sweby for eOne.

This puts eOne, a powerhouse in Canada and the UK and Spain particularly after its acquisition of Alliance, more prominent in the U.S. market. That part of the company, steered by distribution head Dylan Wiley, got underway with the Chris Walken-Phil Seymour Hoffman pic A Late Quartet, and this year has the Jim Mickle-directed We Are What We Are (which played at Cannes), Brian De Palma’s Passion and Sergio Castellitto’s Twice Born. eOne also releases in Benelux and Australia, the latter through Hopscotch.

“This is a natural continuation of our growth, and this announces we want to continue our trend of acquiring and releasing high-end adult fare with great stars and filmmakers,” Wiley told me.