Director(s): Pablo Larrain
Writer(s): Steven Knight
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Nielen
Synopsis: Follows Princess Diana over the course of a Christmas week as she realizes she wants to leave Prince Charles.
Princess Diana, and the Royal Family as a whole, have been all the rage in recent years. I’m not sure when this resurgence started – I can only assume with Netflix’s The Crown, but maybe before – but a lot has come out about the Royal Family and their… methods of operating. One of the people who was trapped in this Royal cyclone was Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales and wife to Prince Charles.
Diana was a pop culture icon then, and has slowly regained popularity in the public eye over the last couple of years. Other than being the focus point of this film, she has been a major character in one of the most awarded and acclaimed TV shows, The Crown, and Diana, a Broadway musical about the life of Princess Diana, has a recorded version of the stage play on Netflix.
But even if Diana’s life was a tragedy, her legacy never would be. Diana wanted nothing more than to be a normal mother in a normal home with a normal family. She wanted to eat fast food, she wanted to live in a normal home with normal people surrounding her. She says during the film, “If it’s good enough for the pheasants, then it’s good enough for me”, and I really think she meant it.
Pablo Larrain captures Diana’s true wants in a way that doesn’t make her time in the Royal Family a pure tragedy. Instead, he opts for a story of rediscovery and the reclamation of ones true self. Over the course of a week in the life of Diana, we witness all of the lows she has to endure in order to find the strength to become herself again.
This isn’t a story of the tragic death of a Royal icon, but of the rebirth of a woman and a mother who just wants to feel normal again; one who just wants to go home. Larrain recruited Kristen Stewart to play Diana in the film, and she not only has the look down, but the entire woman that Diana was down. The film, while centered around her wanting to leave Charles, is a lot about her trying to make it back to her childhood home.
This home is boarded up, and locked away behind barbed wire fences, just as this part of Diana has been locked away. And every time she attempts to reach this state of peace she is stopped by police, Royal members, or herself. This film is about breaking through the hard times, and finding a path through the darkness in order to find this state of peace that has been lost.
Stewart embraces the free spirit that Diana had and the anti-tradition that she believed. It was beautiful to see her come into her own, but she also perfectly captures every Earth shattering moment Diana has to go through. Her want to be normal and to be appreciated, and her knowing that if she is a part of this family she never will be.
Larrain’s direction is so strong in this film. He allows for these thematic moments to play out in beautiful and sinister ways. For how hopeful a lot of this film is, it is just as terrifying. Diana is trapped in this world and even though there aren’t any real ghosts, she is also followed by some sort of figure. She is always looked at and always watched. People tell her constantly to watch what she says because the walls have ears.
It is quite scary to think that every moment of your life is a real horror, and the direction, accompanied by the MAGNIFICENT score – one of the best of the year from Johnny Greenwood – set the stage for this film to show both the highs and lows of Diana’s time in Royalty. While I said earlier Stewart plays these beautiful moments well, she also plays these more somber moments with a perfect sense of unknowing and fear. Her performance is truly layered from top to bottom where every outburst is just as magnificently portrayed as every intimate moment. Kristen Stewart truly gives one of the best performances of the past decade.
In the film, Diana talks about what her legacy might be. She talks about Royalty and some of the stuff past Royalty has been known for, and is worried about what her future might hold. Her life ended tragically, and far too soon, but I think this film portrays what she would have wanted to be known for. Ultimately, I believe this is the legacy Diana would have wanted. Not one of tragedy or conviction, but being a great mother to her children; the people who mattered the most to her. Exploring this side of Diana, in such an amazing way, that is what is so beautiful about this film.
2021 Film Rankings
Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.