Kristen Stewart is set to play Princess Diana in Spencer, a new indie drama from Jackie director Pablo Larraín.
Hit-and-miss scribe Steven Knight wrote the script, which takes place over three days in December in the early ’90s, when Diana decided that her marriage to Prince Charles wasn’t working and she traveled to the House of Windsor in their Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England to think things over.
Larraín will produce with his Fabula partner Juan de Dios, as well as Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski and Paul Webster. Production is expected to begin early next year. CAA Media Finance arranged the financing and will handle U.S. rights, while FilmNation Entertainment will represent international rights and introduce the package to buyers at the upcoming virtual Cannes market.
Deadline broke the news, and the site reports that Spencer won’t deal with Diana’s tragic death after she left royal life, though it will examine her strained relationship with her husband and her devotion to her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, the latter of whom recently followed in his mother’s footsteps by stepping away from the royal family with his new wife, Meghan Markle.
Larraín told Deadline that he saw Princess Diana’s story as an inverted fairy tale. “Usually, the prince comes and finds the princess, invites her to become his wife and eventually she becomes queen. That is the fairy tale. When someone decides not to be the queen, and says, ‘I’d rather go and be myself,’ it’s a big, big decision, a fairy tale upside down. I’ve always been very surprised by that, and thought it must have been very hard to do. That is the heart of the movie.
While I can certainly see how Stewart might be able to relate to Princess Diana, having spent plenty of time dodging paparazzi herself, I struggle to picture her in the role, and remain lukewarm on her acting abilities, as I typically respect her work more than I actually enjoy it. I know there are plenty of people who consider a film like Personal Shopper to be a masterpiece, but I couldn’t wait for it to end. Larraín nearly guided his Jackie star Natalie Portman to her second Oscar for playing American royalty, but lightning rarely strikes twice.
Larraín, however, feels confident he has the right actress for the job. “Kristin is one of the great actors around today. To do this well, you need something very important in film, which is mystery. Kristin can be many things, and she can be very mysterious and very fragile an 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, [and] she’s very committed,” said Larraín. “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.”
Larraín explained that the movie is called Spencer because that was Diana’s family name before she met Charles. “Diana is such a powerful icon, where millions and millions of people, not just women, but many people around the world felt empathy toward her in her life. We decided to get into a story about identity, and around how a woman decides somehow, not to be the queen. She’s a woman who, in the journey of the movie, decides and realizes that she wants to be the woman she was before she met Charles. It’s about finding herself, about understanding that possibly the most important thing for her is to be well, and to be with herself and by herself.”
Stewart is coming off the studio movies Charlie’s Angels and Underwater, neither of which fared too well at the box office. Meanwhile, her Amazon movie Seberg was all but ignored. If Stewart was an A-list draw, I’d understand her casting as Princess Diana a bit better, but she’s not, so I’m not sure why Larraín didn’t just cast a British actress, one with a bit more mystery than capital-C Celebrity Stewart.
Knight is the talented screenwriter behind Locke, Allied, Eastern Promises and the TV series Peaky Blinders, though his last two feature credits are Serenity and The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which are among the worst films I’ve seen in recent years.