Kristen Stewart is note-perfect in this ghostly and inventive vision of Princess Diana fighting for her sanity
In 2013, respected German film-maker Oliver Hirschbiegel (director of Downfall) turned the Princess of Wales’s stormy life into a farce with Diana, a tatty soap opera featuring a tilt-headed, big-haired Naomi Watts reciting platitudes lifted wholesale from the pages of Hello! magazine. In stark contrast, Chilean director Pablo Larraín’s thematic companion piece to his 2016 hit Jackie offers a bold and somewhat mysterious portrait of a woman searching for her own identity, conjuring “a fable from a true tragedy” that, for all its dramatic invention, feels remarkably truthful. Playing out over three excruciating days at Sandringham – from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day – and carried shoulder high by a note-perfect Kristen Stewart, Spencer (the very title of which seems to present a challenge to the House of Windsor) dances between ethereal ghost story, arch social satire and no-holds-barred psychodrama, while remaining at heart a paean to motherhood.
“Keep Noise to a Minimum: They Can Hear You” reads an ominous sign in the Sandringham kitchens, to which vast amounts of food are delivered in the film’s opening salvo. That this food should be delivered like military supplies merely emphasises its weaponised presence for Diana. From the scales on which festive guests are weighed in and out of Sandringham (a bit of traditional “fun”) to nightmarish feasts where cinematographer Claire Mathon sharply captures the claustrophobia of royal stares, Spencer traps its bulimic subject in a web of royal rituals that strip her of agency and identity.