We have an endless fascination with Diana, Princess of Wales, one which shows no signs of abating despite it being 24 years since her untimely death in that Paris tunnel at the age of 36. Earlier this year we were enthralled by series 5 of The Crown, and Emma Corrin’s portrayal of the young Lady Diana Spencer as she was courted, then married to Prince Charles, and now it it the turn of Kristen Stewart to play a slightly older Diana, one at the crossroads of her life with Prince Charles, in the weird yet beautiful film Spencer.
Spencer is set over three days at Sandringham around 1991. It starts with Diana losing her way to Sandringham on Christmas Eve, and for Diana, this is a weekend that starts badly and gets progressively worse. She knows that Prince Charles has given her the same Christmas gift as his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles (glimpsed at Sandringham Church on Christmas morning), the other Royals barely speak to her, she is both self harming and suffering from bulimia, meaning she hardly eats, then gorges on cakes in the kitchens. Her only allies in the house are her two sons, her dresser Maggie and the chief chef Darren. To make matters worse, the sinister Major Gregory, accompanying the Queen Mother from Clarence House, seems to know her every move, and constantly pushes her to confirm to a life which she no longer wants to be a part of. Add in the spectre of Anne Boleyn, seeming to forebode what her future could be, and we are faced with the most miserable of Christmases.
Spencer is a stunning film, full of scenes that stay in your mind for a long time after. Kristen Stewart is frankly a revelation as Diana, she looks beautiful and portrays her turmoil in almost horrifying detail, particularly in the self harm scene where she cuts her arm with a pair of wire cutters. There is also the imaginary scene where she seems to be eating the hated pearl necklace at dinner, a mixture of loathing for the thoughtless gift and horror at the idea of food, any food, eaten surrounded by people who seem to despise her, and certainly have no understanding of her despair.
The recreation of fashion is also beautifully done. There is a scene where a younger Diana is shown singing and dancing along corridors in some stunning looks, almost like a Diana catwalk. This scene is just sublime – fashion was important to Diana, a way of expressing herself, but it also became another prison, one where you couldn’t change your mind and wear something different than the one labeled ‘Christmas Eve’. No wonder she auctioned off so many of her famous looks just months before she died.
Diana is a work of fiction, a thought provoking fable based on the unenviable life of the most famous woman in the world.