Although Princess Diana fans have to wait two months for Spencer to hit Australian cinemas, the film has already become a talking point, with actor Kristen Stewart receiving “career best” accolades … and even a little Oscar buzz.
Speaking to American public radio network NPR on November 7 after the film’s cinematic release, Stewart, who portrays the late Princess of Wales, said it “felt so good to live in her skin, even when we were depicting a kind of terrible, tumultuous situation”.
“Once you really land on something and something feels pure and present and kind of out of your control, even if it was sad and exhausting to get to that moment, you’re kind of celebrating that you were able to get there.
“Biopics for me just always seem like such a tease.
“In this case, we examined three days of her life, knowing that people would bring a personal memory or a personal projection to what her story was and kind of fill in the blanks naturally,” the Twilight franchise star tells Danielle Kurtzleben.
From the acclaimed director of Jackie, Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain concentrates his heavily dramatised “horror-movie” narrative on Diana’s conflict and ultimate decision to leave Prince Charles during a three-day Christmas trip to Sandringham Estate in 1991.
“Her whole job was so different. She was perpetuating a lie. She was a princess. I mean, she felt like what she was supposed to go out and do wasn’t true,” Stewart said.
“It became so painful and impossible for her to continue that she had to make the crazy, groundbreaking decision to leave the royal family which, obviously, as we all know, is like – it’s not a small thing.
“And she was never allowed to be herself, and I cannot imagine what that was like.”
Early days but there is Oscar buzz
Spencer had already screened across three film festivals, including its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival – the BAFTA award-winning actor received a three-minute standing ovation – before hitting cinemas.
Critics and reviewers say Stewart heartbreakingly captures definitive moments of struggle in Diana’s life, including mental health issues and an eating disorder, wanting to be a mother rather than a royal, and Charles advising her that she has to lead two separate lives as a princess.
All that, for some film reviews, has labelled the fictionalised account akin to a “secret horror film”, reframing the late princess’s life to that of a “ghost story”.
Film website ScreenRant wrote that Spencer steps away from the typical biopic and “instead borrows from the genres of psychological horror and thriller, mainly through a delusional heroine and an overwhelming sense of ‘cabin fever’”.
“Diana’s confinement to the grounds of the Sandringham Estate feels reminiscent of the maddening isolation found in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining,” critic Jack Filsinger wrote.
“This sense of isolation reaches its peak as Diana began to see visions of a spectre haunting the estate’s grounds: the ghost of Anne Boleyn, whose equally lethal marriage to a member of the royal family paralleled Diana’s.”
Either way, with its release on November 5 in the UK and the US came the Oscar noise for Stewart’s portrayal, and “just give her the Oscar now” hitting up online and newspaper reviews, and social media.
“This is Kristen Stewart, reluctant Hollywood royalty incarnate, hurling herself into the kind of dazzling celebrity-as-celebrity star turn that reduces co-stars to commoners and sets Oscar prognosticators swooning,” wrote the LA Times on November 4.
“What gives Stewart’s performance its specific resonance goes far beyond adroit technique; it’s the sense of a spiritual kinship, unarticulated but unmistakable, forged by an actor who knows a thing or two about the trappings of fame and the cruel churn of the gossip mill.
“Always good at projecting awkwardness and insecurity, she particularly comprehends Diana’s innate shyness, her squirming unease in these hostile surroundings.”
The Twittersphere was a little more direct.
“I smell Oscar. Give her the trophy,” wrote one fan.
‘Very mysterious and very fragile’
Stewart, 31, is best known for her Twilight franchise starring opposite former boyfriend Robert Pattinson (The Batman).
According to Forbes, the LA-born actor’s 25 films have earned $4 billion worldwide, with 93 per cent coming from The Twilight Saga.
Snow White and the Huntsman grossed $375 million on a $175 million budget in 2012, cementing a highest-paid actress tag for her that year.
She worked through big-budget releases including Still Alice and Personal Shopper before landing the lead role in Spencer, raising eyebrows about the American’s ability to play a British royal.
“To do this well, you need something very important in film, which is mystery,” Larrain told Deadline last year.
“Kristen can be many things, and she can be very mysterious and very fragile and ultimately very strong as well, which is what we need. The combination of those elements made me think of her.
“The way she responded to the script and how she is approaching the character, it’s very beautiful to see.
“I think she’s going to do something stunning and intriguing at the same time.
“As a filmmaker, when you have someone who can hold such a weight, dramatic and narrative weight just with her eyes, then you have the strong lead who can deliver what we are looking for,” the Jackie director said.
Stewart, who came out as bisexual in 2017, told US radio jock Howard Stern on November 2 she had become engaged to her girlfriend of two years, Dylan Meyer, a few months earlier.
“We’re marrying. It’s happening,” she said.
“I wanted to be the one to be proposed to, and she just grabbed that ball and made it happen.”
On November 5, Stewart received the Palm Springs International Film Festival’s (PSIFF) Spotlight Award, which is seen as a major precursor for an Oscar, with the award previously going to multiple Oscar-nominated performances in the past.
“It is always challenging to portray a real-life figure, especially one so beloved as Princess Diana, yet Kristen Stewart does a fantastic job in Spencer,” festival chairman Harold Matzner said.
“She completely disappears into this iconic role, authentically adopting Diana’s mannerisms, accent and demeanour with real emotional depth.
“For this career-best performance, it is our honour to present the Spotlight award for actress to Kristen Stewart.”
Spencer will premiere in Australian cinemas on January 26