Surprisingly, as a lifelong pop culture junkie, I’ve never found an interest in any of the European royal families as celebrities. This, of course, includes the UK monarchs and their shining star, Princess Diana. Up until this week, I didn’t really know much beyond the basics on the beloved princess of modern history.
After almost 25 years since her infamously tragic death and numerous reports, specials, documentaries, and fictionalized portrayals, the public now has yet another option for on-screen Princess Di. The subject of Pablo Larraín’s Spencer this November isn’t a contemporary, confident, glamorous Snow White or Cinderella on the big screen. Instead, she’s a rather neurotic young woman uncomfortable in her own skin and reluctant to comply with her regal calling.
Set during Christmas Eve and Day in 1991, Spencer begins with Diana Spencer (played by Kristen Stewart) running late to her own castle. She makes excuses on why she would rather be anywhere but at the scheduled dinners and conferences. Diana adores her young sons William (Jack Nielen) and Harry (Freddie Spry) but feels she’s married to a stranger with husband, Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). She fantasizes about the childhood she feels was stolen away from her as she reads a biography on Anne Boleyn, in whom she finds parallels to her own life.
Timothy Spall co-stars as the master of the household. Sally Hawkins plays Diana’s favorite lady-in-waiting. When Spencer was first announced with Stewart as the star, many reactions were along the lines of, “Her?” Stewart is still associated with the vampire melodrama franchise Twilight (2008-2012) to the average movie viewer. But to those fanatics paying attention to all fields in the film medium, the former teen starlet proves her range with Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) and Personal Shopper (2016). Here, we have a rare English accent from the Hollywood actress that she pulls off for the most part.
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I’m not super familiar with the real Diana’s personal history and personality. If she supposedly doubted herself and questioned her role in the world, Stewart does a fine job of expressing those feelings. Many are already comparing Stewart’s performance to Emma Corrin’s own recent, award-winning interpretation of Princess Di on season four of Netflix’s “The Crown” (2016- ). While the comparison was inevitable, Larraín’s style and vision are unique enough to probably not seem too redundant.
Some fans found Larraín’s previous glamorous historical drama, Jackie (2016) on former First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis, a bit too artsy and self-reflective. While we get a bit more of that in Spencer, it’s not as transparent this time. Although Spencer displays an impressive effort by Stewart and an interesting focus on the princess’ body issues and eating disorder, I found Jackie to still be the slightly stronger film. Still, with Larraín’s latest input, we get gorgeous cinematography from Claire Mathon during the castle and dinner scenes, stunning costumes by Jacqueline Durran, and an important reminder that even the most regal person can feel like they’re not good enough.
For those new to Diana’s legacy or a longtime fan, Spencer might be worth checking out if you’re itching for more beyond “The Crown.”
Are you fascinated by Princess Diana’s legacy? Do you have any interest in seeing Spencer? Let us know in the comments!
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