Pablo Larraín’s Princess Diana biopic, Spencer, gets about as far away from a cradle-to-grave template as possible, instead charting the three days of Christmas, 1991, as the pressure to conform to royal life finally overwhelms her. It’s introduced as “a fable from a true tragedy”, and you can add to that an oppressive air of psychological horror, evoking The Shining, of all films.

Steven Knight’s script is hyper-focused on Diana’s mental state from moment-to-moment. As befitting a Royal Family whose code is silence, decorum and tradition, barely a word is out of place. Diana is not reprimanded for turning up late, or dressing with the curtains open, she is simply reminded of ‘the way things are done’ by a household staff containing excellent supporting performances from Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins and Sean Harris.

Kristen Stewart is a fantastic choice for this Diana, superb at conveying emotion through small expressions. She radiates charisma befitting the woman herself, with a little help from the luminous lens of Claire Mathon. She clearly relishes Diana’s rebellious nature, fighting back against the establishment that tries to suffocate her with an air of gleeful camp.

Larraín’s direction is gripping, roaming through the endless claustrophobic palace corridors and blocking the supporting cast to emphasise how trapped Diana is. Johnny Greenwood’s dizzying score is another highlight, delivering jazzy asides and operatic swells to capture the shifting mood.

This Diana is caught in the confines of royal life, where the present is ruled by the past, or perhaps just haunted by its ghosts. But she doesn’t want to escape into a freer future. Ominously, perhaps she fears no future will be possible for her. Instead she fights to return home, to before she was Diana, to when she wasn’t a figure of adoration or jealousy, to when she was just a Spencer.

RATING: 5/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris

DIRECTOR: Pablo Larraín

WRITER: Steven Knight

SYNOPSIS: During her Christmas holidays with the royal family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, Diana decides to leave her marriage to Prince Charles.