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Quendrith Johnson


Quendrith Johnson is filmfestivals.com Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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SPENCER, the sticky wicket of portraying Princess Diana for her stans

by Quendrith Johnson, Film Critic 

Finally Kristen Stewart has had a real sunrise since the early Twilight of her career. That would be SPENCER, her peckish portrait of Princess Diana from Director Pablo Larrain. This is the “hellish Christmas” Princess Diana moment of thirty years ago, set in 1991, that released Nov. 5 from NEON. 

Now playing up to six times a day, viewers can see the grandeur and the grotesque in “Peaky Blinders” screenwriter Steven Knight’s script brought to life by a pitch-perfect Stewart. 

But is this the “People’s Princess” of her fans imagining since the tragic 1997 fiery crash under the star-crossed bridge in Paris?

 

 

Yes and no. This is where the real life divides audiences across the Pond and theater aisles. 

To see a member of the Royal Family cut and run at a full clip in a yellow cocktail outfit with tricorn hat and heels across the manicured grass seems less than dignified for many, and yet Princess Diana did manage to “escape” the Firm at least temporarily before her death. 

Spectral figure Anne Boleyn makes her incidental appearances here, a kind of grim echo of things to come. However Anne Boleyn, as the second wife of Henry VIII, held a title that Princess Diana never attained: Queen. Anne Boleyn held her post for three years, from 1533 to 1536, before she found herself charged with heinous crimes from incest to witchcraft.

Additionally, the grounds for Boleyn’s beheading on May 19, 1536, were bolstered by her failure to produce a male heir, which hardly seems a fair bar to stack up against a 19-year-old virginal bride Lady Diana Spencer from Althrop House who produced two sons for Prince Charles.

History aside, the weekend biopsy of Princess Diana’s fraught marriage to Prince Charles in SPENCER is a masterful turn by Kristen Stewart, and it may rank as the best of all depictions thus far.

Yet the film may not be a satisfying portrayal of the worldwide icon for her devotees who expected to see less mess and more strength under duress for a young girl who went from being a Royal clothes horse and thoroughbred brood mare to touchstone for oppressed people all over the world.

It wasn’t just that Princess Diana broke free from a gaslit loveless union to a powerful man and his Royal Family; she evolved with public support. People felt vested in her victories, as she grew into the very real title of “People’s Princess” as a catch-all for some new, groundbreaking identity that required no HRH attached.

While the loss of an HRH, or Her Royal Highness, title may seem unimportant, the stripped Princess of Wales would have been forced to curtsey to not only to her ex-husband, but also to her children as a humiliation.

[SPENCER – Close enough for a nomination.]

What would Princess Diana say about SPENCER? The dead can’t defend themselves, but she might have been flattered by the lengths to which Kristen Stewart studied her as far as accent and demeanor.

Yet Princess Diana expressed herself best about the complicated aspects of her public-private struggles in the controversial Martin Bashir interview in 1995.

“During the years you see yourself as a good product, that sits on a shelf and sells well, and people make a lot of money out of you… the media were everywhere, and here was a fairy story that everybody wanted to work. And so, it was isolating, but it was also a situation where you couldn’t indulge in feeling sorry for yourself. You had to either sink or swim. And you had to learn that very fast… I swam,” the People’s Princess revealed.

Up to nine actresses have reportedly portrayed the late Princess, from TV serials to mini-series and now as lead character of a feature film. Too bad Princess Diana did not have nine lives, but Kristen Stewart has added something rich and strange to the legacy of a lady who never became Queen but never needed a Royal title to win over hearts and minds.

This 1991 portrait dovetails the year in which Pablo Larrain's movie is set.

Visit her childhood home

SPENCER is open now in theaters near you, find out more

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About Quendrith Johnson

Johnson Quendrith

LA Correspondent for filmfestivals.com


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