Spencer: A Fable from a True Tragedy
Directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain and written by Steven Knight, Spencer is the much anticipated “fable from a true tragedy” of a fateful few days, two decades ago. Offering a new perspective on a media story many of us may feel familiar with, the film takes place in the Christmas break at Sandringham House in the winter of 1991. Over the course of three days, the film charts the breakdown of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s marriage. Turning tabloid stories and media frenzy into a painful, very personal nightmare, Spencer captures the agony and torment of a woman entirely out of place in her surroundings.
Following a high-profile world premiere at Venice International Film Festival, Spencer is hotly tipped for major award success next year, particularly for Kristen Stewart in the lead role as Diana. Stewart leads the film in a brilliant performance that captures the awkwardness and despair of a woman, suffocating under the expectations of Royal protocol. The finale will break your heart and make it skip all at once.
Of course, the royal family have long been a ripe subject for film and TV projects - some good, some bad. In 2006, Stephen Frears’s The Queen was released to critical acclaim and earned numerous awards for Helen Mirren in the lead role as Queen Elizabeth. Her portrayal was said to impress the Windsor’s so much that she was invited to dinner at Buckingham Palace. In 2013, Australian actress Naomi Watts was cast as Diana in Oliver Hirschbeigel’s Diana, which received overwhelmingly negative reviews upon its release. Since 2016, Netflix has helmed The Crown, an original series charting the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, from her marriage in 1947 into the 21st century. Spencer is the latest film offering something of a glimpse behind the curtain of royal life.
Stories of women held captive have become a trademark for Larrain in recent years. Jackie, the critically acclaimed biopic of Jackie Kennedy from 2016, featured Natalie Portman’s highly emotional performance as the First Lady. In 2019 Larrain followed Jackie with Ema, which sees a dancer break with convention and polite society. Spencer is a logical continuation of this for Larrain; outwardly, Diana projected an image of having it all, but as the director suggests, the reality is much sadder. Despite the stately homes and beautiful designer dresses, a gilded cage is still a cage.
This article first featured in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 4 November 2021.