Kristen Stewart delivers an Oscar-worthy performance as Diana, Princess of Wales, in a film that has been described as “a reimagining of a Royal Family Christmas at Sandringham, circa 1991.” (Toronto Star)
Or, more concisely, in the film’s opening caption: “A fable from a true tragedy.”
Neither description adequately prepared me for what followed.
From the start, it is clear Diana dreads this tense three-day holiday with her husband’s family. Driving by herself in an open convertible, she gets lost in the Norfolk countryside, not too far from where she grew up. At one point, she wanders into a café and asks the woman behind the counter, “Where am I?”
Once at the estate, her mood plummets even further.
Hearing the familiar words, “No one is above tradition,” from the stern-faced military officer (Timothy Spall) at the entrance sets the tone. She is expected to comply with all the rituals, including one dating back to 1847. On arrival, guests must participate in the “all in good fun” weigh-in. Upon departure, another weigh-in will hopefully confirm they have properly indulged during the holiday by gaining three pounds. An ordeal for most people and a nightmare for anyone struggling with weight issues.
While her sons, William and Harry, are happy to see her, almost everyone else belittles or ignores her. Diana’s one scene with Charles painfully demonstrates how far they have strayed since their fairy tale wedding ten years earlier. His comment, “You have to be able to make your body do the things you hate, for the good of the country,” does little to reassure Diana.
In her assigned bedroom, Diana finds a book on Anne Boleyn, another abandoned royal wife. Boleyn’s ghost (Amy Manson) shows up in several scenes, offering sympathy and warnings, at critical junctures during those seemingly endless three days.
Hints of Camilla Parker Bowles are everywhere.
Knowing that Camilla has received the same gift, Diana is sickened by the set of pearls she receives from Charles. A bizarre dinner scene involving a bowl of pea soup demonstrates the level of physical suffering Diana is enduring. While being photographed outside the church on Christmas Day, Diana catches glimpses of Camilla among the crowd.
Oscar-winning costume designer Jacqueline Durran adds bursts of much-needed color to the film’s grayish-brown backdrop. Durran includes many of Diana’s famous outfits and other looks associated with that period. My favorite, a yellow suit with a pirate hat, takes on special significance in a later scene.
The film ends on a bittersweet note, reminding me of Diana Spencer’s too-short life outside the gilded cage.