‘Spencer’ Starring Kristen Stewart Isn’t a Biopic, but It’s the Princess Diana Story We Needed
Pablo Larraín’s highly anticipated film Spencer, starring Kristen Stewart, hit theaters on Nov. 5, allowing audiences to see what all the buzz is about. For anyone who thought this was your typical Princess Diana biopic, it’s certainly not. But it’s what we needed.
[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for Spencer.]
‘Spencer’ isn’t a Princess Diana biopic, but it’s all about the People’s Princess
Spencer is about the real Princess of Wales staying at the royal family’s Sandringham House over the Christmas holiday. However, it’s made clear to audiences right away that the movie is not a biopic. It opens with the words: “A fable based on a true tragedy.”
During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, Stewart explained: “My movie takes place over three days, and it’s this really poetic internal imagining of what that might have felt like rather than giving new information.” In a statement (per Sky News) Stewart expanded on that. “Spencer is a dive inside an emotional imagining of who Diana was at a pivotal turning point in her life,” she said. “It is a physical assertion of the sum of her parts, which starts with her given name; ‘Spencer.'”
The film is so entirely focused on Diana that the other royals are just a backdrop. Besides her sons Princes William and Harry (Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry), Prince Charles (Jack Farthing), and briefly Queen Elizabeth II (Stella Gonet), we never hear any of the other royals speak. The Queen Mother, Princess Margaret, Prince Philip, and Charles’ siblings are shown but not heard from. This works because the family’s presence is so heavily felt in Diana’s despair that they don’t need any lines to drive that point.
When separating fact from fiction, we know that the royals do indeed spend Christmas at Sandringham in Norfolk. And Diana was raised at a property located on the massive Sandringham estate called Park House. Moreover, she did confess in her recorded tapes to Andrew Morton that she struggled with bulimia. And there were a number of outfit changes planned for the holiday festivities. But as for what actually went on behind closed doors and in Diana’s mind while staying at Sandringham for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day, we’ll never know for sure.
Stewart delivers an Oscar-worthy performance
Leading up to the film, Stewart revealed how much she prepared for the role of the beloved princess. The Twilight star told InStyle that for the part she worked with dialect coach William Conacher to get Diana’s accent right. And she read up on the People’s Princess.
“People know that voice, and it’s so, so distinct and particular. … In terms of research, I’ve gotten through two and a half biographies. … It’s one of the saddest stories to exist ever, and I don’t want to just play Diana — I want to know her implicitly.”
Well, Stewart nailed it. She’s in just about every scene of the movie and is magnificent in each. She resembled Diana and sounded like Diana, embraced Diana’s complexities, and in turn gave the best performance of her career. Stewart became the character she was cast to play. And it’s easy to see why there’s been Oscar chatter ever since Spencer debuted at the Venice Film Festival.
The film does not mention Diana’s death
Prior to the film’s release, Larraín answered one nagging question many had about whether Spencer would get into Diana’s death.
“She died years after where our story is set and so we don’t deal with that,” he told Deadline. “It’s only three days of her life and in that very small amount of time, you’re able to get into a wider, bigger perspective of who she was. We all know her fate … and we don’t need to go there.”
Larraín’s choice not to make mention of Diana’s death is the right thing to do. Not touching on what will happen later gives the audience a chance to feel happiness for the princess in a moment at the end of the film when she is enjoying time with her two sons.