December 1991. The marriage of the Prince and Princess of Wales has long since cooled. Although rumors of infidelity and divorce continue to circulate, the Christmas holiday at Sandringham Estate seems to be quiet. They eat, they drink, they shoot, they hunt. Diana knows the recipe. This year, things will be different.
In Pablo Larrain’s latest film, Kristen Stewart plays a fictionalized portrait of Diana, Princess of Wales
Spencer tells the story of a modern monarchy that no longer rules as in the past, but has become purely symbolic, in the form of banknote figures and a pre-packaged, directed life. It seems that the royal family has been playing the same play for centuries, and the palace where they all live is an opulent media scene.
For Diana, Princess of Wales, Christmas is an ordeal. She feels trapped and alienated in this eternal play and in this strange exchange with the society she represents, in which you have to learn to do and what you don’t like. To keep a facade marriage, a facade happiness, to always follow the directing instructions of the family and for your children to participate in the hunt according to tradition, even if it seems barbaric to them.
The text from the beginning, “the fable of a real tragedy”, announces a story detached from the reality we know. We know that Princess Diana died tragically in a car accident, but the film indirectly shows that tragedy. As in “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu”, where we do not see Mr. Lazarescu physically dying, Spencer shows us the tragedy of the fact that Princess Diana is not in control of her life, which we know will be short.
The whole family spies on her and puts pressure on her to follow the script faithfully, to be present, to be punctual, to wear the established dresses, not to wear her head and so on. There are no secrets, because the whole palace is just eyes and ears, and when the curtains are not drawn and I see photos set out like hunting, they must be sewn – in fact, it was the paparazzi trying to escape Diana by car driving on the bridge in Paris .
As in reality, Princess Diana suffers from bulimia, depression and has a tendency to self-harm. But in the movie, things get a little more exotic and seem to herald the prelude to a psychosis. Diana begins to have visions and is also visited by the ghost of Ann Boleyn, the queen of England who was accused of adultery and beheaded by order of her husband, Henry VIII, so that he could marry his mistress. For Diana, Ann Boleyn’s fate reflects the way her husband, Prince Charles, separates their public marriage from his intimate, extramarital affair. Diana’s only allies are her children, William and Charles, and the maid she approached, but who kind of supports her in her riots, so Prince Charles is forced to replace her.
Actress Kristen Stewart has been praised by critics, especially at the Venice Film Festival, where she was applauded for minutes. Indeed, Kristen has thoroughly prepared for this composition role. The Princess Diana she plays is a bit flamboyant and childish, as if drowning in her own words and always losing her breath. Her role would have had more potential if the script had opened up other dimensions. What is certain is that the inner life of the haunted princess is tumultuously pouring over us, and here the composer Johhny Greenwood has an essential role, enveloping us in a restless darkjazz, to the music of discordant strings accompanied by arrhythmic percussion. By the way, Johnny Greenwood (guitarist at Radiohead) also composed the soundtracks for The Power of the Dog and Licorice Pizza this year.
Chilean director Pablo Larrain is one of those filmmakers who seems to have found a niche, becoming attracted to the stories of women in strong positions, but incapable of their own emotional baggage, in films with eponymous titles. In Jackie (2019), the first lady of the United States, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman), not only loses her husband in a terrible way, shot next to her in the car, but falls on her shoulders and the American society turned upside down this assassination. In the miniseries Lisey’s Story (2021), adapted from Stephen King’s latest novel, Lisey (Jullianne Moore) is put in similar circumstances, except that instead of being JFK, her murdered husband is a famous writer. All these dramas curl up a soft horror at some point, whether it’s based on a book by Stephen King or inspired by history.
Princess Diana also finds herself in some situations of “aristocratic horror”. In a sequence, she has to face the nightmare of sitting at the table with a worried and silent royal family, next to an unfaithful husband, who gave her the same necklace as his mistress. She feels suffocated by this necklace, which she breaks like a collar, the beads jumping into the soup she had not touched before, but which she now swallows insatiably, crushing the beads between her teeth. Many such visions haunt the Princess of Wales, who only wants to leave this play and return to her former home, the Spencer family, where she can relive her childhood.