SPENCER — This is the second time Chilean-born director Pablo Larraín has focused his attention on a famous female personality. He directed “Jackie” (2016) on the life of one of the most glamourous American first ladies: Jackie Kennedy. On this occasion, he has turned his attention to Diana, Princess of Wales. Of course, she has been the subject of other films and TV series. Filmgoers must remember “Diana” (2013) with Naomi Watts in the leading role. That film was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and focused on the last two days of Diana’s life.
“Spencer,” written by Stephen Knight, also focuses on a few days in Diana’s life, but very crucial ones. Diana (Kristen Stewart) is on her way to a Christmas royal family reunion at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. Things didn’t start well; while driving to the castle, she got lost, although that detour allowed her to see again a now-abandoned estate –Park House– where she used to spend her childhood.
Diana’s stay at Sandringham is already set by ominous signs: her marriage to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) is all but broken. The stern presence of Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall) and the royal family’s general oppressive environment contribute to Diana’s growing descent into serious mental problems, from depression to bulimia and hallucinations.
Amid that atmosphere, Diana finds only a few relaxing moments: she confides with Head Chef Darren McGrady (Sean Harris) and especially with her Royal Dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins). In her family circle, she would only enjoy the time spent with her sons William (Jack Nielen) and Harry (Freddie Spry). However, they would also be caught between the emotional impulses of her mother and the role that, even at an early age, they are destined to play.
Although the story is primarily fictitious –given what the public now know about Diana’s relationship with her husband and the royal family– it may still be said that what the movie narrates “could have happened.” It is precisely that aspect of “Spencer” that perhaps is the most fascinating. It gives the audience a new sense of what Diana might have felt like a sort of tragic character.
Kristen Stewart delivers a solid and convincing performance as Diana. Timothy Spall also gives us a character that the audience may perceive as the “villain.” In the end, he is just one piece in the intricate mechanism of the monarchy. Sally Hawkins is also quite effective in portraying the only character who provides some warm support to the princess.
“Spencer” will be especially enjoyed by those interested in the complexities of British royalty, by fans of Diana (there are still many), and by those who like a good story.
Available in movie theatres. Duration: 1 hr. 51 min.
Feature image: Kristen Stewart delivers a convincing Princess Diana in “Spencer”