Greetings again from the darkness. “A fable of a true tragedy.” Such is the cautionary sub-heading that director Pablo Larrain begins his latest film. As in his 2016 film, JACKIE, the director turns his lens to an icon of which both too much and too little is known. The screenplay is written by Steven Knight (DIRTY PRETTY THINGS, 2002), and it takes place in the early 1990’s not long before the official marital break of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Much of this movie occurs in the muddled mind of Lady Diana through surreal dream sequences and imagined internal mental imagery.
You may find the holidays to be a stressful time, but what we see in Diana are the results of unrelenting pressures: media, royal family, a husband’s not-so-secret relationship with another woman, and yes, the somewhat absurd Christmas traditions of the institution into which she married. Kristen Stewart plays Diana, and we first see her lost on the back country roads trying to drive herself to Sandringham Estate, the site of the festivities. Arriving late (as she does throughout the 3 days covered here), Diana is confronted by Major Gregory (Timothy Spall), a military man hired by the royal family to keep the media at bay and to ‘spy’ and report on Diana’s every move … including the traditional holiday “weigh-in”, a particularly discomforting event for the Princess with an eating disorder.
It seems the only ones happy to see her are the kids: William (Jack Nielen) and Harry (Freddie Spry). Their relationship is much how we have imagined – lots of mommy time with some royal lessons thrown in for good measure. A book on her life leads to Diana’s encounters with the ghost of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, whose path is one Di would prefer to avoid. Her only confidant is her dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins), the lone adult she can trust with actual thoughts and conversation. We quickly realize that, regardless of the size of the castle, Diana feels very much as if she has been caged by her situation.
Her emotional pain and anguish seems to multiply by the minute, right down to being forced to wear the pearl necklace – identical to the one Charles (Jack Farthing) also gave Camilla. Grasping for freedom, Diana tries to explore her nearby childhood home, now a relic of the past. The coat removed from a dilapidated scarecrow is yet another attempt for Diana to escape back to her simpler and happier life, and of course, we watch this knowing how her story ends.
The head chef, Darren McGrady (a terrific Sean Harris) is one of the few who holds a soft spot of empathy for the Princess, but her paranoia is only enhanced by such things as the sign in the kitchen that states, “They can hear you”, and a reminder from Maggie, “Everyone here hears everything.” Cinematographer Claire Methon complements the surreal feel with matching camera work, and Jonny Greenwood (PHANTOM THREAD, 2017) delivers one of his most unique and distinctive scores – both matching the oddity of the film and the captivating performance of Kristen Stewart. More psychodrama than biopic, director Larrain’s film is both interpretative and a bit sad.
available VOD (Amazon)