"Spencer" shows her suffering: Poor Princess Diana

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“Spencer” shows her suffering
Poor Princess Diana

By Linn Penkert

In 1991 Diana spends her last Christmas party with the royal family. The three days in Sandringham turn into a nightmare for the “Queen of Hearts”. With “Spencer”, director Pablo Larraín shows a woman who is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Even 25 years after her death, the hype about Princess Diana just doesn’t want to decrease. She is still idolized or honored with statues – and not only by the British people – and not only her sons, Princes William and Harry, still mourn the beautiful and kind “Queen of Hearts”. Her tragic accident in a Paris tunnel, which tore her from her life, keeps making headlines, after all, numerous conspiracy myths have grown up around him to this day.

Although the royal family has often been criticized for dealing harshly with Diana, they benefit from their legend. In an age in which the monarchy is considered outdated and many are denying its legitimacy, the mere memory of Lady Di manages to hold the people and the royal family together as if by a magical bond.

With the “Queen of Hearts”, who was born as Diana Frances Spencer, there is still a lot to be earned. A number of documentaries, series and books try to put yourself in your psyche. Whether Naomi Watts, Emma Corrin, Elizabeth Debicki or Julie Cox – a number of actresses have already slipped into their roles. The focal point of the plot is the same in all productions: How out of place Diana felt as part of the British royal family, that Prince Charles left her alone with her problems and preferred to take refuge in the arms of his lover Camilla Parker Bowles. What remains is always the image of a broken woman whom you want to take in your arms and feed with a hamburger.

Tension leads to breakdown

Pablo Larraín’s latest work “Spencer” is no exception. The biopic about the princess, embodied this time by Kristen Stewart, highlights her last Christmas party with the royal family, who traditionally spend the holidays in Sandringham, the country home of Queen Elizabeth II. There, at the end of 1991, the then 30-year-old made the decision to finally part ways with Charles (played by Jack Farthing). The Chilean director turns the royal property, which is located in the immediate vicinity of Diana’s parents’ house, into a nightmare for the princess.

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She spends most of the time in isolation in her room or with her sons, who are nine and seven years old at the time. She only meets her husband and his family when the tight schedule to which they are subjected requires it – taciturn and unpleasant encounters, which are often interrupted by the bulimic princess going to the bathroom to throw up. The tension that she feels in the presence of her family by marriage ultimately almost leads to a nervous breakdown and is underlined by dramatic organ sounds or wild free jazz.

She gets consolation from her dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins) and the chef Darren McGrady (Sean Harris), to whom she pours her heart out. When she arrives, she also finds – not entirely by chance – a book about Anne Boleyn on her pillow, with which she can identify immediately. Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII, who was executed on the king’s orders in 1536 so that he could marry his third wife. Diana begins to dream about the woman and later also to hallucinate. She seems almost delusional when Boleyn’s ghost speaks to her and prevents her from attempting suicide at night in her abandoned home.

Larraín is doing Diana a disservice

And that’s exactly where the problem lies with the film: director Pablo Larraín has given free rein to his artistic freedom and tried to portray in such a dramatic way how trapped Diana must have felt that she almost seems like a rebelling teenager with a tendency towards psychopathy. She fantasizes about injuring herself with a wire cutter, constantly creating drama and provoking with unpunctuality or failure to adhere to the strict dress code. Diana wakes her sons in the middle of the night when she feels lonely, later she locks herself in their bathroom so as not to have to attend the Christmas dinner. An overwhelmed and helpless William knocks on the door and begs his mother to please pull herself together.

Now it’s not as if she has absolutely no reason to rebel. Her husband reacts to her eating disorders or her disbelief with indifference and ridicule when she sees Camilla Parker Bowles in front of the church with the same pearl necklace around her neck that Charles had given her. At his command, her curtains are sewn up so that photographers cannot sneak a picture of her. And Major Gregory (Timothy Spall), HR manager at the Sandringham estate, seems to want to keep them on a short leash for the good of everyone. But in the end Larraín is doing Diana no favors with his portrayal.

With Kristen Stewart, the Chilean, who already has experience with the biographies of (world-famous) women with films like “Jackie” about the first wife Jacqueline Kennedy and “Gloria” (as a producer), has hit the bull’s eye. The 31-year-old, made famous by the “Twilight” film series, plays the role of Lady Di with full conviction. The actress is often accused of having a monotonous and expressionless face, but she manages, like none of her predecessors, to imitate Diana’s unique puppy look and her special way of speaking. It was not without reason that she was nominated for a Golden Globe, some even trust her to win an Oscar.

“Spencer” will be in German cinemas on January 13th.

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