Directed by Pablo Larraín (Jackie; The Club; No; Fugitives (TV Series)) and starring Kristen Stewart (Twilight; Charlie's Angels; Personal Shopper; Still Alice; American Ultra; Snow White and the Huntsman), Timothy Spall (Mr. Turner; All or Nothing; The Damned United; Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street; Vanilla Sky; The King's Speech; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Blandings (TV Series)), Sean Harris (Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation; The Green Knight; '71; Harry Brown; The Borgias (TV Series)), Jack Farthing (The Lost Daughter; Official Secrets; The Riot Club; Poldark (TV Series); Blandings (TV Series)), Stella Gonet Nicholas Nickleby; How I Live Now; Holby City (TV Series); The House of Eliott (TV Series)) and Sally Hawkins (The Shape of Water; Blue Jasmine; Paddington; Maudie; Made in Dagenham; Layer Cake).
Drama, biopic; 117 mins; 12+
An art-house drama that is set in three days around Christmas in December 1991 at the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, UK, and focuses mainly on the mental health of the protagonist, Diana, Princes of Wales.
Diana (Kristen Stewart) and Chales (Jack Farthing) have been married for 10 years and have recently separated; however, she has been invited to join the royal family at Sandringham. On Christmas Eve, on the way there, Diana gets lost while driving herself, despite having grown up in the vicinity (the Spencer estate and house are by now derelict). She eventually bumps into Darren (Sean Harris) who we understand oversees what is served from the kitchens, with military-like precision; he tries to impress on her that she is late and should hurry up to join the family.
When she does arrive at the estate, she is met by the imposing Major Alistar Gregory (Timothy Spall) who also urges her to get a move on; he explains that he normally is based at Clarence House, the official residence of Charles, Prince of Wales. She then participates in a traditional Christmas-time ritual practiced by the royal family for many years, and meets her children, William and Harry. By this stage she is a nervous wreck and seeks refuge in a bathroom before she can face The Queen (Stella Gonet) and other members of the Royal Family.
Thankfully, the one person she feels she can trust, Maggie (Sally Hawkins), is there and helps both as a maid and as a confidant. However, all the time, one wonders about Diana's state of mind as she feels more and more isolated as time goes by. While we never see any, we are told on multiple occasions of photographers with long lenses: while living with this is part of the job of all members of the royal family, Diana is scolded for not drawing the curtains when getting dressed: this, she feels, is going too far, and rebels against such rules...
The soundtrack is mainly courtesy of string instruments which create a haunting backdrop to the events that unfold on the big screen. Most of the time, from the moment she arrives at Sandringham, the skies are overcast and grey, which mirror her mood. Only fleetingly do the clouds (and her mood) lift, when she is at the coast, away from the royal family. Throughout the film, much of the dialogue is delivered in whispered tones which can result in audiences resorting to reading the sub-titles (in FR, NL); but this is part of Diana's character and part being overwhelmed by the pressures of the royal family.
Interestingly, Schloss Nordkirchen in North Rhine-Westphalia is used as the filing location for Sandringham: while the main buildings may look similar at the front, the main differential is that Sandringham is not surrounded by water.
While the casting of an American actress, Kristen Stewart, as Diana initially caused consternation in some quarters, there is no doubt that her performance was excellent in the film, for which she has already won awards. A lot is made of mannerisms, and not only Diana's, in the film: Major Gregory's, Charles' and even the Queen's are also put under the microscope. And nuances and symbolic imagery are also used, including a scarecrow, as one way to portray what is going on inside Diana's head.
Towards the end of the film, a couple of scenes show Diana away from the royal family and with either her confidant or her boys, in short scenes that show her happy and content, yet one wonders how long these moments will last and what the future holds for her. Will they be lasting memories from the final days of her marriage to Charles?
Currently screening at Ciné Utopia.