When it was first announced in summer 2020 that Pablo Larraín and Kristen Stewart would be tackling a movie about the late Princess Diana, some wondered why a Chilean filmmaker and an American actress were being tasked with bringing to life one of the United Kingdom’s most iconic figures. It’s a topic Larraín is no stranger to as he faced it before with “Jackie,” a biographical drama about Jackie Kennedy that just so happened to be his first English-language effort. As “Jackie” producer Darren Aronofsky told The New York Times about putting Larraín in the director’s chair, “Sometimes the most interesting perspective comes from the outside.”
Aronofsky went on to call Larraín a “very diverse, but also extremely precise auteur,” adding, “He’s extremely smart and not afraid of layering on lots and lots of different levels to think about in a film. He’s very close to the actors and to the characters, and he’s unflinching.”
“Jackie” scored critical acclaim and Oscar nominations. Will “Spencer” follow in its footsteps? The projects could not be more different other than focusing on two prominent women who became cultural icons. Larraín started production on “Spencer” this year, and the film is being turned around fast for a late 2021 release. Below is every detail we know so far about “Spencer.”
A Venice Film Festival World Premiere
“Spencer” will have its world premiere in competition at the 2021 Venice Film Festival this September. The news was first reported by Variety. Larrain has a rich history with the Venice Film Festival, even serving as a jury member at the 70th edition of the event in 2012, so it’s not a huge surprise to hear “Spencer” will be unveiled there. The director’s 2010 drama “Post Mortem” world premiered in Venice, as did “Jackie” at Venice 2017 and “Ema” at Venice 2019. Should “Spencer” follow in the footsteps of “Jackie,” expect Neon and Topic Studios to follow the film’s Venice world premiere with screenings at other major fall festivals such as the Toronto International Film Festival. “Jackie” won the Platform Prize at TIFF after its Venice world premiere.
“Spencer” is set over a single weekend as Diana contemplates the end of her marriage to Charles while celebrating the Christmas holiday with the royal family. The official synopsis from Neon and Topic Studios reads: “December, 1991: The Prince and Princess of Wales’ marriage has long since grown cold. Though rumors of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at Sandringham Estate. There’s eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game. This year, things will be a whole lot different.”
“Spencer” will not cover Diana’s tragic death and will instead “examine the fraying of the relationship with her husband, and her ferocious love for her sons Prince William and Prince Harry,” Pablo Larrain told Deadline about the plot.
Kristen Stewart Is Princess Diana
News broke June 17, 2020 that Kristen Stewart was cast to play Princess Diana. The actress, who remains the only American actor to win a Cesar Award in France thanks to her performance in “Clouds of Sils Maria,” is no stranger to tackling real-world characters, having played French New Wave icon Jean Seberg in Amazon’s “Seberg.”
Talking to InStyle magazine last year about signing on to play Diana, Stewart said, “I think there is sort of an unbridled, open, and intimate exchange that she had with the public that was so striking for people that were used to a sort of different face to the royal family. That’s not something I grew up with. I always thought this person was stolen from us and I always had a curiosity about her. Every day that I unfold this story the more emotionally invested I get.”
Of the film’s three-day structure, Stewart told Jimmy Kimmel, “It’s this really poetic, internal imagining of what that might have felt like, rather than giving new information.”
Pablo Larraín Returns to Historical Drama
Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín made a name for himself with acclaimed historical dramas such as “No,” “Neruda,” and “Jackie,” the latter of which starred Natalie Portman in an Oscar-nominated performance as Jackie Kennedy. The director recently moved away from the genre with family drama “Ema” (which world premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2019 and will finally get a release later this year via Mubi) and the Stephen King horror series “Lisey’s Story” for Apple TV+. With “Spencer,” Larrain returns to the biographical genre but switches things up by only focusing on a three-day period in his subject’s life.
“It’s only three days of her life,” Larraín told Deadline about the movie, “and in that very small amount of time, you’re able to get into a wider, bigger perspective of who she was. We all know her fate, what happened to her, and we don’t need to go there. We’ll stay in this more intimate space where she could express where she wants to go and who she wants to be.”
Jack Farthing Is Prince Charles
Starring opposite Stewart as Princess Diana is Jack Farthing as Prince Charles. The 35-year-old actor is best known for his performances on television series such as “Blandings” and the BBC One drama “Poldark,” in which he starred as the villain George Warleggan. The actor’s film credits include last year’s time-loop Netflix romantic comedy “Love Wedding Repeat.” Farthing’s turn as Prince Charles in “Spencer” will be his most high profile film role to date.
The roles of Diana and Charles have proven to be awards bait for “The Crown” stars Emma Corrin and Josh O’Connor, who picked up Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards for their performances as the British royals in the most recent season of Netflix’s “The Crown.” The performers were nominated at the Screen Actors Guild Awards next month and are favorites for nominations at the Emmy Awards later this year. Will Stewart and Farthing have similar awards success?
The Supporting Cast
Joining Stewart and Farthing in the “Spencer” cast are BAFTA Award nominee Timothy Spall (“Mr. Turner,” “The Party“), Academy Award nominee Sally Hawkins (“The Shape of Water, “ “Paddington“), and Sean Harris (“Mission: Impossible – Fallout, “ “Prometheus“). These three actors are the only additional performers the studios behind “Spencer” have confirmed for the movie, although there are reports out there that actors such as Olga Hellsing, John Keogh, and Thomas Douglas are also involved in the project. “The Nevers” star Amy Manson told Good Housekeeping that she appears in “Spencer” as Anne Boleyn, a headscratcher considering there are centuries between Anne and Diana.
“It is amazing…It’s definitely nothing like we’ve seen before — it’s nothing like ‘The Crown,’” Mason said of the script. “It really delves into Princess Diana’s mental state around a certain time in her life…It’s just really unnerving, how great Kristen is. She’s brilliant.”
Why Pablo Larraín Cast Kristen Stewart
Shortly after “Spencer” was first announced, Larraín spoke to Deadline about why he chose the actress for the leading role: “Kristen is one of the great actors around today. To do this well, you need something very important in film, which is mystery. 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. She is this force of nature.”
Tackling Diana’s Accent Proved Difficult for Stewart
Why tackle one of the most iconic British royals in history? In an interview with InStyle magazine, Stewart said she remains “viscerally affected” by images of Princess Diana’s funeral, which she remembers watching as a child. “The accent is intimidating as all hell because people know that voice, and it’s so, so distinct and particular,” Stewart said. “I’m working on it now and already have my dialect coach. In terms of research, I’ve gotten through two and a half biographies, and I’m finishing all the material before I actually go make the movie. It’s one of the saddest stories to exist ever, and I don’t want to just play Diana — I want to know her implicitly. I haven’t been this excited about playing a part, by the way, in so long.”
“Peaky Blinders” Creator Steven Knight Wrote the Script
Pablo Larraín directed “Spencer” from a script by Steven Knight, best known for creating the hit drama series “Peaky Blinders.” Knight’s movie scripts include David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises,” Stephen Frears’ “Dirty Pretty Things,” and his own directorial effort “Locke,” among other screenplays. The Tom Hardy-starring “Locke” took place entirely in a car, which means Knight has experience crafting hyper-contained narratives. Shortly before production on “Spencer” started in January, Knight spoke to Variety about the movie.
“We’ve got a cast all in place and we’re ready to go, and Pablo’s brilliant,” Knight said. “Working on the script has been a pleasure. I think it’s a different perspective on a story that we don’t all know well, but we all feel we now are a part of it. And I just found the whole thing fascinating. To talk to people who knew her and to try and get a view of this person — who this person really was — who was an ordinary person in extraordinary situations, is the way I think of her.”
Jonny Greenwood Is Composing the Score
One of the standout names included in the “Spencer” crafts team is Jonny Greenwood, best known for composing the scores for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “There Will Be Blood,” “The Master,” “Inherent Vice,” and “Phantom Thread.” Greenwood’s work on “Phantom Thread” earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Score. “Spencer” will mark only the third movie Greenwood has worked on outside of his collaborations with Anderson. The Radiohead member worked on the music for “Norwegian Wood,” a 2010 Japanese romantic drama film directed by Tran Anh Hung, and “You Were Never Really Here,” Lynne Ramsay’s 2017 crime thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix. Greenwood’s “You Were Never Really Here” score ranked number 10 on IndieWire’s list of the best movie scores of the 2010s, while his Oscar-nominated work on “Phantom Thread” was awarded the number one spot.
Cinematographer Claire Mathon Is Shooting ‘Spencer’
The majority of Pablo Larraín’s movies have been shot by cinematographer Sergio Armstrong, who worked on the bulk of the director’s early directorial efforts and continued with him on “No,” “The Club,” “Neruda,” and “Ema.” Similar to “Jackie,” however, Larraín is working with a different director of photography for “Spencer.” On “Jackie” it was Stéphane Fontaine, and on “Spencer” it is Claire Methon, the acclaimed French cinematographer who earned raves for back-to-back critical darlings “Atlantics” and “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” which won the Cesar Award for Best Cinematography and was named the best cinematography of 2019 by the New York Film Critics Circle and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. Prior to “Portrait,” Mathon earned her first Cesar Award nomination for shooting “Stranger by the Lake” and also served as DP on Maïwenn’s 2015 drama “Mon roi” and Alain Guiraudie’s 2016 film “Staying Vertical.”
“Little Women” Oscar Winner Jacqueline Durran Is the Costume Designer
It only makes sense for Jacqueline Durran, one of the most acclaimed British costume designers, to tackle the iconic style of Princess Diana in “Spencer.” Durran is the winner of two Oscars for Best Costume Design thanks to her work on Joe Wright’s “Anna Karenina” and Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women,” and these films and Mike Leigh’s “Vera Drake” have won her three BAFTA Film Awards for Best Costume Design from nine total nominations.
“She has a way of costuming period pieces so that they look like clothes, not like costumes, which I think is a particular talent,” Gerwig once told IndieWire of Durran. “It’s so good that it can go unnoticed, because you think it just exists…Her work is thematic and intellectual without ever making it feel like you’re hitting the audience over the head with it. Jacqueline does things without ever making it feel too heavy. It’s always within the context of life and the characters.”
The “Inception” Production Designer Is Involved
Rounding out the “Spencer” crafts team is makeup and hair designer Wakana Yoshihara (“Murder On The Orient Express,” “High Rise”) and production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas (Academy Award nominee for “Passengers” and “Inception”). Dyas has experience on major studio tentpoles such as “Superman Returns,” “X2,” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” and he first collaborated with Larraín on the Apple TV+ Stephen King series “Lisey’s Story.” Dyas is also attached to Steven Spielberg’s upcoming tentpole “Robopocalypse.” The production designer’s work on “Inception” won him the BATFA Film Award for Best Production Design. Dyas became the first British designer to win a Goya Award for Best Production Design for his work on Alejandro Amenábar’s historical epic “Agora.”
“Spencer” was filmed entirely in Germany and the United Kingdom. Production started at the end of January at the Schlosshotel Kronberg castle in Germany before moving to the United Kingdom in March for its final stretch of principal photography. Larraín is producing the movie with his Fabula production company partner Juan de Dios, plus Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski and Pail Webster. Executive producers are Tom Quinn, Jeff Deutchman, and Christina Zisa for NEON and Michael Bloom, Maria Zuckerman, and Ryan Heller for Topic Studios. The film is supported by German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, German Federal Film Board (FFA), Film- und Medienstiftung NRW and HessenFilm und Medien.
Royal Biographers Are Already Speaking Out
As was the case when “The Crown” introduced Princess Diana into its most recent season, sources close to the royal family and several royal biographers have already spoken out about “Spencer” and have warned fans that the movie is historically inaccurate. Biographer Robert Jobson told “The Royal Beat,” “I don’t even think she was there that weekend. She wasn’t even at Sandringham, on this supposed weekend. The film will suggest this is where the decision was made to divorce, but she never made that decision. That’s inaccurate. I didn’t think she was at Sandringham after 1990 and this was set in 1991.”
Majesty Magazine editor in chief Ingrid Seward added, “The film is based on three days at Sandringham. For that period that it is based on, Diana wasn’t going to Sandringham anymore. It’s probably going to just play up what life was like at Sandringham.”
It should be noted that none of the talent involved with “Spencer” are purporting it to be based on true events.
Neon and Topic Studios are behind the distribution of “Spencer.” The film will open in U.S. theaters on November 5. Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Diana’s death. The fourth quarter release puts “Spencer” in the thick of awards season. The film will have its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival. Larraín’s “Jackie” launched at Venice before opening in theaters in December. Neon picked up U.S. distribution rights to “Spencer” last summer in a deal worth a reported $4 million.
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