While I have never seen the Twilight films (nor do I plan to), I am aware of the aftermath of the saga’s two lead actors. I don’t refer to their personal lives, but to how the public responded to their acting talent. Before Twilight, Robert Pattinson was most known as Cedric Diggory in the Harry Potter Franchise. Recently, I finally became a fan when I saw his solid work in The Lighthouse and TENET (2020). It will help his career more so now that he is about to be the latest Batman.
As for Kristen Stewart, the first film I remember her in was way back in the film 2005’s Zathura (remember that one?). While she did some great work in films such as the very underrated Adventureland (2009), there was more promise to her acting chops when I observed her in Still Alice (2014). Still, I admit to feeling uneasy when I found out she would be cast as the late Princess Diana in Spencer.
That uneasiness only lasted about ten minutes into the picture.
If you are expecting a conventional biopic of Princess Di, think again. The whole film takes place in the span of a Christmas weekend, where the Princess spends the holidays with the royal family in their estate in Norfolk, England. While we do get title cards, we never figure out the exact year this is happening. However, we soon learn that this is indeed around the time of the divorce she will have from Prince Charles (Richard Sammel), it is safe to say the weekend would take place in the mid 1990s.
To say that she feels perturbed is an understatement. She feels constantly watched, not just by the cameras of the press, but also the staff, headed by Major Alistar Gregory (Timothy Spall). She keeps feeling like she is Anne Boleyn (played here by Amy Manson) The only interactions she enjoys are those with a trusted staff member named Maggie (the always vivid Sally Hawkins) and the ones she has with William (Jack Nielen) and Harry (Freddie Spry).
The film does not shy away from its attempt to be far from an ordinary bio pic (look no further than what happens with her necklace at dinner). The film takes a much more psychological approach to the Princess. I know little about the real Princess Di (she died when I was only 10 or so), but I have picked up that she was always under the impression that she was not favored by the Royal Family. Perhaps the most tense moment in the whole film is when Diana musters up the courage to actually talk one on one with the Queen (Stella Gonet).
The talk already started not too long ago about Stewart’s chances in the Oscar race for Best Actress, and it won’t be dying down anytime soon. Her performance is indeed tremendous. It is far more than just an intimidation with clever make up and a wig. You can see it in her shoulders, head tilts, and other little nuances. You realize it really does not matter that Stewart is about five inches shorter than the real Princess Diana was.
While Stewart’s performance is obviously the main reason to see the film, some credit should also be given to the score by Jonny Greenwood. The composer (and lead guitarist of Radiohead) has done scores for many films by Paul Thomas Anderson, and will be doing the score for The Power of the Dog later this year. His way of scoring here is much more fitting than if the director (Pablo Larraín) had gone with a more classical route (ala Downtown Abbey). Greenwood’s score adds more to the visceral intimacy of the film.
Parents, this is one of those R rated movies that could easily have been PG-13 if the MPAA did not think kids in middle school say the F word. Swearing is indeed the main reason for the R rating, as well as some minor nudity (all from the back as we see Diana in the shower and getting dressed).
There are some moments that keep the movie from achieving true greatness: the point of view does seem to shift at times to that of the kitchen staff for unclear reasons. Nevertheless, the film is indeed a very well done deep dive into what may have been the actual psyche of the people’s princess, the majority of which is due to Stewart.