Pablo Larraín’s sublime ‘fable from a true story’ imagines a Christmas weekend at Sandringham in the early 1990s, as an unhappy Princess Diana contemplates saying ‘no’.
As played with intoxicating perfection by Kristen Stewart, who dominates almost every scene of Spencer, Diana is dying on the vine, showing only flashes of her former effervescence. Hers is the world’s most scrutinised persona since she began living the fairy-tale life of a girl who grew up to marry a prince; in reality, her husband rather publicly loves someone else. She’s also suffocating under the expectations of total subservience to Royal protocol.
Working from a beautiful script by Steven Knight, Pablo Larraín (Jackie) ingeniously depicts a world in which every polished spoon and heavy curtain, every steely stare from staff, even a seemingly jolly Christmas tradition, expresses Her Majesty’s disapproval of the young princess.
Director of photography Claire Mathon (Portrait of a Lady on Fire) shoots in 4:3 ratio with a micro-universe of colour emerging from the muted environments, and Jonny Greenwood, with one of several great scores at London Film Festival 2021, illuminates Diana’s internal tussle with solo piano and strings. It’s oppressive, until it isn’t anymore.
This film contains scenes and references to eating disorders and self-harm,.