Spencer: Kristen Stewart shines as a brilliant, tormented Princess Diana
29th Oct 2021
We've seen a few portrayals of the late Princess of Wales on screen, but none as hauntingly compelling as Stewarts' in Spencer. On screen, she depicts a woman on the verge of breakdown until she realises that only she can save herself.
Those who were not partial to the portrayal of the late Princess Diana in Spencer will say it due to the fact that Diana Spencer herself would have been horrified at how sad and unhappy she was throughout. Close aids, her friends, say she was always laughing, saw the lighter side, even when life became unbearable. It is not the case in the three days depicted in Sandringham, at Christmas in 1991.
But in Pablo Larraín’s movie, the director tells us firsthand it is “a fable from a true tragedy” and spotlights three days in the dissolution of Charles and Diana’s rocky marriage. Working off a razor-sharp script by Steven Knight, director Pablo Larraín spins the headlines, gossip and scandals into 36 hours of an opulent nightmare, the luxury of royal life oppressive and utterly controlling – Diana can’t even alter what she wants to wear for fear of causing upset or daring to want to put her own stamp on a jacket.
They stitch together the curtains, monitor her every move, with eyes that never leave her sight. It’s suffocating to watch and Stewart does a fine job of depicting this, literally at times, being unable to breathe in beautiful, but restrictive gowns, and choking on pearls that she suspects her husband also gifted his lover for Christmas. It is certainly the latter half of Diana’s life merged in the royal outing that finally saw her realise she must break free from the monarchy if she was to ever save even part of herself.
The Chilean director’s approach to the material is lavish and intoxicating; it’s an extraordinary movie. Perhaps it’s because he is free of any subconscious bias that a British director and actress, for example, may have had when portraying one of the most famous women in royal history. They simply look at a woman who needed to break away. Stewart is American and disappears into the role becoming unrecognisable as anyone but Diana. She is nervous, unsure, suppressed. The accent is almost perfect, but at times so defined, you have to really listen to catch the whispers. There’s the harder moments, the bulimia, the loneliness, the lack of support, openly told to the audience.
The royal family is pitch-perfect in their unknowingness; all pointed, often cold stares (though the Queen flashes a moment of good intention) at the one who refuses to play by rules that must be obeyed if they are to survive. And yet it’s not entirely one-sided. It’s easy to glimpse their frustration. For all of Diana’s mounting unhappiness, it was too late for them to step in and help undo the mess they had created – that Prince Charles also had a huge part in.
They were each bound by a system much bigger than them and could do nothing but try and make the best of it. The fact that Diana would not even sit down to a single dinner without a panic attack tells the viewer she wasn’t perfect, she could be difficult. But at that point, the difference was, she knew if she was forced to keep pretending, she would never again know herself. Just get on with it, she could no longer do.
And while there are some elements that don’t quite work, the ghosts, the thin subplots, what does shine overall is a woman who adored her children and wanted nothing more than to be a normal mother to them. She yearns for freedom, and not much else than days with her boys, to simply be. And through Stewart, it flows on screen. An Oscar surely beckons.
The Chilean director's approach to the material is lavish and intoxicating; it's an extraordinary movie.
“It really was a humbling, visceral, and palpable level of protection that came through my telephone, with Pablo so confidently assured that I should be the one to help with this,” said Stewart of her decision to take the role at the film’s premiere at the London Film Festival. “It was just so attractive. I couldn’t really say no. I think there are certain people that come along and they just stick out to here and are undeniable. And the fact that she found herself in an environment that was in such a stark contrast to who she was only amplified that and I think gave her the stage to connect as she did.”
“We really came to visit [the film] with, such love and this experience opened my heart in a way that was so gratifying. I will say watch it with an open heart. Everything trickles from the top and goes Diana, Pablo, and then all of us.”
Spencer is in Irish cinemas from November 5th