As the new ‘Diana movie’ Spencer unspools this week at Muskoka’s Norwood Theatre, audiences are treated to a modern-day fairy tale, quickly labled a “fable” onscreen in an early scene of the latest film by Pablo Larrain (Jackie). Kristen Stewart as Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales, speeds toward Sandringham in a topless Porsche, wind messing with that iconic hair, narrowing English hedgerows whizzing by. That her path toward the monarchy’s military-like Christmas estate is closing in as she drives—and a dead pheasant lies unheeded on the road—is foreshadow enough to let us poorlings know, clearly: this isn’t Kansas anymore; Diana, like Anne Boleyn before her, is about to get it in the throat.
Set amid the tabloid tumult of 1991 (just as Diana and Charles and Camilla were at their worst), Spencer is pure fantasy. The film makes no move to lay down historic fact, relying instead on the fabulousness of fiction. It takes the What If? trope to an extreme: What if Diana fought to escape the stifle of one Royal Christmas? What if, though thwarted at every turn by Charles and his military-like minions, Diana (POW) suffered terribly in her Sandringham cell but finally made a break for it, busting through the barbed wire, stumbling toward the beach, finding freedom for herself and her young sons… even if that freedom lasted but one delicious moment? Diana was, of course, the Princess of Wales not a Prisoner of War. Her prison was a posh English estate, not some POW camp. And her forced fashion was a snowy Chanel gown not an orange jumpsuit. But still… what if?
Kristen Stewart almost succeeds in convincing the audience she’s Diana and not Kristen Stewart, an incredible feat considering she’s playing one of the most recognized (and scrutinized) women of our lifetime. The film’s rendition of the rest of the Royal family succeeds as well, in that they’re mostly ignorant and silent—they don’t actually speak!—to Diana’s plight and struggle. Key players (Charles, Elizabeth, even William and Harry) are given very few lines. Kristen/Diana is left to carry the narrative on her own and yes, she pulls it off, breathy voice and shy-Di ticks intact.
In short, the movie Spencer is as dark and fantastical as a Brothers Grimm fairytale. It’s loaded with clever (sometimes too clever) dialogue, dangerous characters, and doomed imagery. Even the musical score is deathly, ominous. The film is at once whimiscal and downright depressing. But is it worth a trip to the Norwood to see it? Definitely.
Photos courtesy of Neon.