Director: Pablo Larraín
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sean Harris, Sally Hawkins, Jack Farthing,
Jack Neilan, Stella Gonet
Synopsis: The marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles has long since grown cold. Though rumours of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate. There’s eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game. But this year, things will be a whole lot different. SPENCER is an imagining of what might have happened during those few fateful days.
Chilean filmmaker, Pablo Larraín [Tony Manero (2008), No (2012), Neruda (2016), Jackie (2016)] in this sublime ‘fable from a true story’ imagines a Christmas weekend at Sandringham in the early 1990s, as an unhappy Princess Diana contemplates ending her marriage to Prince Charles and leaving the British Royal Family forever.
Sandringham, Christmas 1991. Bare trees, frosted fields, dead pheasants on the drive, this biographical psychological drama takes place over a festive period weekend. As played with intoxicating, mesmerising perfection by Kristen Stewart [Personal Shopper (2016), Clouds of Sils Maria (2014), The Twilight Saga (2008 -2012)], who dominates almost every scene, Diana, Princess of Wales (née Spencer) is suffocating, showing only flashes of her former effervescence. The world’s most scrutinised persona since she began living the fairy-tale life of a girl who grew up to marry a prince; in reality, her husband rather publicly loves someone else. She’s also suffocating under the expectations of total subservience to Royal protocol.
From a beautiful script by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders), Larraín adroitly depicts a world in which every polished spoon and heavy curtain, every steely stare from staff, even a seemingly ‘jolly’ Christmas tradition, all express Her Majesty’s disapproval of the young princess.
A star-studded cast – including Timothy Spall as Major Alistair Gregory, with responsibility to keep Diana in line, Sean Harris, the head chef and Sally Hawkins as her preferred personal maid – also feature in this impressionistic and expressionistic poignant and powerful tale.
The exquisite mis en scene and craftsmanship combine with director of photography Claire Mathon’s (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) universe of colour emerging from the muted environments designed by Guy Hendrix Dyas, creating breathtaking visuals. Jonny Greenwood’s groundbreaking score illuminates Diana’s internal tussle with solo piano and strings. It is oppressive with Baroque orchestration to reflect tradition and then free jazz for Diana and her inner turmoil.
Stewart and Larraín deliver a finale that is simultaneously heartbreaking and heartstopping in Pablo Larraín’s unreverential entirely compelling film.
Images courtesy of: STX Films