What You Need To Know About Spencer

For many people, it's hard to remember a time when the tale of Princess Diana, the subject of 2021's "Spencer," wasn't part of the cultural zeitgeist. The kind-hearted, doe-eyed princess captured the world's hearts when she married Prince Charles. She quickly fell prey to the British tabloid press. Not too long after she divorced Prince Charles and broke free from "The Firm," she was killed in a car crash during a paparazzi chase. Her death was mourned by millions worldwide. Over 20 years later, Diana remains a cultural icon. In 2020, Netflix's "The Crown” introduced a new generation of fans to the famous royal. "Diana: The Musical" and other documentaries have also been released. It's safe to say that Diana-mania is as strong as ever.

The latest addition to the collection of Diana tributes is "Spencer," by director Pablo Larrain, starring Kristen Stewart as the ill-fated royal. The film leans into the mythological status of Diana, calling itself "a fable from a true tragedy" (via The Guardian). After initial screenings at the Venice Film Festival, it was quickly clear that this artistic portrayal of Diana was special. The Telegraph called it "resplendently mad, sad and beautiful," while Roger Ebert called it a "decadent fairy tale." Curious to learn more? Here is everything you need to know about this spectacular film.

Kristen Stewart agreed to the role before reading the script

Some roles are too good to miss. For Kristen Stewart, there was never any question of whether or not she would accept Pablo Larrain's offer to play Princess Diana. As the actress explained during an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival (via IndieWire), Larrain called her and told her his idea for the film before even sending her a script. "Kind of without thinking, very irresponsibly, I said, 'Yes, absolutely,'" Stewart recalled.

Accepting the role without first reading the script was unusual for Stewart. For most projects, she explained, she prefers to read the script and decide whether she's confident in portraying the character. But for this project, it was different. As she put it: "In the moment right before I was going to say, in a word, yes or no, I was like 'Who are you if you don't say yes?" Clearly, this project was a dream come true for Stewart — how could she say no?

Pablo Larrain decided to make Spencer with his mother in mind

"Spencer" is certainly a unique Princess Diana film. Unlike "The Crown," which aims to provide a long, detailed representation of the lives of the royal family, "Spencer" focuses in on just one weekend. So, how did the production team come up with the idea?

As director Pablo Larrain told IndieWire, he first thought of making a movie about Diana because of his mother. Apparently, his mother had always been fascinated by Diana's story, and Larrain simply wanted to make a movie she would like. "Somehow, despite the enormous distances between these women, I always felt that my mother was very interested in this story, and was somehow influenced by her — like millions of people around the world," Larrain said. The more he thought about his mother's love of Diana, the more he became interested in exploring the manic public fascination with her. In the end, he decided he wanted to make a film that explored her situation, rather than her true character. He shared, "We only wanted to express a certain beautiful type of humanity and then show what happens when you expose it to the dangers of history and tradition."

The costume designer recreated Diana's wardrobe in Spencer

One of the first things you will notice about "Spencer" is its beauty. Everything from the lighting to the cinematography to the sets are beautiful. And, of course, this includes the clothes. Designed by two-time Oscar winner Jacqueline Durran, the costumes of "Spencer" are, in a word, breathtaking.

As Durran explained to Entertainment Weekly, she began her design process with lots of research. After all, images of pretty much every outfit Diana ever wore can be found online. Durran then got to work, imitating some looks and creating some new looks of her own. "The idea was that we were never slavishly replicating all of Diana's looks, but we were definitely riffing on the idea of them," she said. And she certainly did recreate some famous looks, including a red houndstooth suit, a yellow sailor outfit, and even Diana's famous wedding dress. It's safe to say that fans of Diana's fashion will love taking in the costumes in this movie.

Kristen Stewart had to get over her nerves at first

Even for the most experienced actors, playing someone as well known and revered as Princess Diana is never easy. For Kristen Stewart, settling into the role took some time. In fact, in the days before shooting began, Stewart's nerves almost got the better of her. "I had TMJ [a locked jaw] to the point where I was like, completely locked up," she recalled to the BBC. "I was like, 'Huh, I guess I'm really nervous' — I was really tripping out until we started."

We can hardly blame her — Princess Diana is, after all, a hugely popular figure, so taking on the role must have felt like a massive responsibility.

Luckily, Pablo Larrain, the film's director, helped her to loosen up. Apparently, he told her to simply "relax and trust the process," reminding her that she had done her research and that she was ready. In the end, Stewart did find a way to relax. "I had to just not focus on other people's idea of her, and really focus on my own," she explained. "And that in itself was just so distinct and specific to me."

Spencer's epic dance montage was anything but easy to film

One of the most unforgettable moments in "Spencer" is an explosive montage of Diana dancing. At first, Kristen Stewart wanted to plan the sequence. As she told the Los Angeles Times, "I'd ask Pablo, 'Where are we going to shoot this stuff? What does it mean? What are we going to be listening to?'" However, director Pablo Larrain wanted the sequence to be more spontaneous.

They shot the dance scenes at the end of each day of filming for half an hour — "just randomly throughout the house in different outfits," Stewart said. Larrain would put on songs from a wide range of genres, and Stewart would simply let her emotions from the day of filming come out. Larrain instructed Stewart, "Whatever bubbles to the surface, just trust that you love her and allow what you know about her to present itself."

Shooting this dance sequence certainly sounds like a physical and emotional ordeal. But at the very least, for Stewart, the experience helped her unlock her inner dancer.

Pablo Larrain helped Jack Farthing play Prince Charles in Spencer

Even though Kristen Stewart is undoubtedly the star of "Spencer," Jack Farthing plays a crucial role as Prince Charles, the other half of the unhappy marriage. Like Stewart, Farthing was initially worried about playing such a famous real-life figure. Farthing explained to Insider, "It's obviously a very scary overwhelming idea, taking on someone like that." The task was even harder because Prince Charles has been imitated so many times. So, Farthing had to try and find the human inside the impersonation.

Luckily, he got some invaluable advice from the film's director, Pablo Larrain. "I remember Pablo talking about how much he wanted me to feel at home in these big rooms and make them my own and make them feel like I'd lived in them and that's that was a weird process of trying to like go into these rooms beforehand and try and to own the air in them," Farthing recalled. It sounds like for Farthing, finding Prince Charles was all about settling into his habitat.

Here's why Anne Boleyn makes an appearance in Spencer

If you take a look at the cast list of "Spencer" on IMDb, you may be surprised to see that Amy Manson plays Anne Boleyn. So, what is Anne Boleyn doing in a movie set in the '90s about Princess Diana?

Well, as Insider explained, Boleyn is a "running theme" in the film. Diana is shown reading a book about the queen, who was famously beheaded, and, as Diana becomes more and more distraught throughout the film, Boleyn begins to appear before her as a vision, telling her to "Go! Run!" As Manson told Good Housekeeping, her appearance is "definitely nothing like we've seen before" in a Diana film or TV show (via Daily Mail).

Unfortunately, not all critics were fans of the Anne Boleyn symbolism in "Spencer." As one wrote for Time, "Boy, is it dumb." It seems that the beautiful, ghostly visions in "Spencer" won't be to everyone's taste.

Diana's friends think she would hate her portrayal in Spencer

While many critics have raved about Kristen Stewart's performance in "Spencer," some people who knew Princess Diana intimately are apparently less impressed. Ingrid Seward, editor of Majesty magazine and had been acquainted with Diana, told The Telegraph that the film gets things wrong. "That Christmas she was there with Fergie, she was pretty miserable and she wasn't speaking to Charles, but she wasn't cutting herself at that stage," she shared. She went on to explain that, in her opinion, the producers took their "poetic license a little far." In fact, Seward even explained that Diana wouldn't have liked being portrayed as someone who was trying to take down the monarchy. "She'd be horrified at the way she's portrayed now," she said.

Mary Greenwell, a makeup artist who was once close with Diana, agreed, explaining that Diana had never wanted to be idolized or fawned over. She suggested that if fans wanted to really understand Diana, watching movies like "Spencer" isn't the best approach.

The producer and director came up with idea for Spencer in one hour

"Spencer" takes place over a very short timespan — and it turns out, the production team also had a very short time span to come up with the premise. As Paul Webster, the film's producer, told ScreenDaily, he and director Pablo Larrain met with writer Steven Knight and producer Juan de Dios Larrain in 2018 to discuss the idea of making a movie about Princess Diana. In just one hour, they had hashed out the details of the film.

Apparently, it had been Knight's idea to set the movie over the course of one Christmas weekend. "Over the course of an hour, we developed the idea, and it is pretty much how the film is now in terms of the three-day structure and the idea that this woman arrives at what will be her last Christmas at Sandringham with the royal family in a state of some distress," Webster explained. Sounds like that meeting was a pretty crucial one!

Here's how Kristen Stewart prepared to play the part of Princess Diana

How do you get ready to play one of the most famous, iconic figures in history? Kristen Stewart took her preparations to play Princess Diana in "Spencer" pretty seriously. She explained, as reported by The Sun, that she began by doing heaps of research, because Diana wasn't that familiar to her. "I'm from LA and didn't grow up in England," she said. "Before this, she was not something that was at the forefront of my mind, because I lived so far away from it all." She watched films, documentaries, and interviews, looked at pictures, read about her, and tried to immerse herself in Diana's life.

After her research, Stewart tried to get inside Diana's head and see things from her perspective using her own experience with fame. Of course, this took a bit of imagination. She shared, "She was the most famous woman in the world. I have tasted a high level of that, but really kind of nowhere near that monumental, symbolic representation of an entire group of people." By the end of the process, Stewart had developed an "obsession" with Diana, as she told Sky News.

Kristen Stewart felt that Diana was alive while she made Spencer

It seems that, in many ways, making "Spencer" was an almost spiritual experience for Kristen Stewart. In fact, as she told the Los Angeles Times, she sometimes felt that Diana was there with her while she was filming. As she put it, "She felt so alive to me when I was making this movie, even if it's all between the ears and it was just a fantasy of mine." Apparently, Stewart would go through periods of forgetting the tragic end to Diana's story.

For Stewart, convincing herself that Diana was alive was actually a big part of how she managed to play the part in the first place. "It was ... a fight to keep her alive every day, and so remembering that she was dead was just absolutely lacerating," she said. "It just destroyed me constantly." It sounds like Stewart certainly felt a deep connection to Diana while making this movie!

Johnny Greenwood created a unique blend of jazz and baroque music for the movie's score

The score of "Spencer" is almost like a character of its own. It's impossible to ignore the sweeping, classical orchestra that underscores much of the film. The music is by Jonny Greenwood, who is famous for both his film scores and for being the guitarist of the band Radiohead. As the composer told NME, director Pablo Larrain emailed him and asked him to join the production team. Once Greenwood was on board, he began to think about what kind of music would suit a film like "Spencer."

As he explained, most royal films are filled with classical baroque music — but he wanted to do things a little differently. "I wanted instead to emphasize how chaotic and colorful Princess Diana was, in amongst all that baroque tradition," he said. In the end, he combined a baroque orchestra with free jazz players. "The key was to still sound vaguely baroque, while leaving enough space for true anarchy and chaos," he said.

Spencer was shot to feel ghostly

Another key membero the production team of "Spencer" was Claire Mathon, the cinematographer. You may have seen her work before in films like "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" or "Stranger by the Lake." For Mathon, "Spencer" needed to be somewhat spooky. So, she shot the film in 16 mm film. "It evokes ghostliness on the level of image," she told Vanity Fair. She also used lighting to add to the ghostly feeling of the movie, using warm, natural light in the indoor scenes and misty, atmospheric lighting outside.

Of course, having Kristen Stewart in the lead role helped Mathon achieve her desired effect. Mathon used plenty of extreme closeups to try and capture as much of Stewart's emotion as possible. "I often had the feeling that I was almost touching her," she said. "I could feel her breathe and I was watching every single little moment." No wonder the film feels a little eerie!

Writer Steven Knight interviewed people when writing his script

On one hand, "Spencer" is presented as a "fable" based on truth. From the beginning, the film makes it clear that this movie is not fact — it's fiction. However, plenty of the elements of the story are, apparently, true. As the scriptwriter, Steven Knight, told The Telegraph, he managed to get some insider information that made it into the film. "I know some people who knew Diana quite well," he explained. Apparently, he even chatted with people who had worked at Sandringham, where the film is set, on the very weekend that the film covers.

For one thing, he learned that, in his words, "Christmas at Sandringham is basically a never-ending, inescapable series of meals." Apparently, the weight ritual, in which every family member is weighed when they arrive and when they leave (to see how much they've "indulged"), is also based on truth. For Diana, who had bulimia, this allegedly made things even more of a struggle at the time.

So, what else is real in "Spencer"? Well, according to Knight, "All the things in the film that seem least believable are true." But, of course, at the end of the day, we'll never really know what happened during that weekend.