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Spencer review: Kristen's majestic Diana is an awards frontrunner

Spencer is in cinemas now

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James King
Film Columnist
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Spencer is like nothing you’ve seen before. If you’ve been following the buzz about this fictionalised look at three days in the life of the late Princess of Wales then you’ll already know how much star Kristen Stewart looks remarkably like the much-loved late royal, but there’s a lot more to this than a simple impersonation.

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Spencer is an unusual, even eerie, look at a free spirit who feels trapped in a world of rules. Don’t expect The Crown and you’ll be rewarded with one of 2021’s most distinctive films.

WATCH: Will you be watching Spencer?

The story is set at Sandringham over the Christmas of 1991 - a time when the marriage of the Diana and Prince Charles was at its most damaged. What follows is an ‘imagining’ by writer Steven Knight (creator of Peaky Blinders) of what might have happened during a festive season when the former Lady Diana Spencer was unlikely to be in the mood for celebrations. The result is a study of a young woman with problems, desperate for someone to reach out to.

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Kristen Stewart plays Diana

British acting legends Timothy Spall and Sally Hawkins provide superb support as senior members of the Sandringham staff but the Royal Family themselves are largely background figures. The spotlight is always on Diana and in what might seem an almost impossible role to pull off, Kristen Stewart positions herself as a frontrunner for the forthcoming awards season with a performance that’s her most well-rounded and mature yet.

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The spotlight is always on Diana

Yes she has Diana’s mannerisms spot-on - the wide eyes, the tilted head - but there’s more too. Here is a thirty-year-old princess so full of both youthful spirit and unparalleled responsibilities that she doesn’t know which way to turn.

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Don’t expect The Crown and you’ll be rewarded

Spencer is a deliberate move away from traditional biopics. How could a film about an unconventional royal be anything but unconventional itself?

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Sometimes it almost feels like a ghost story, helped in no small part by the persistently haunting music that accompanies scenes of Sandringham’s long corridors and vast grounds (actually filmed in Germany). The film even calls itself ‘a fable’ in its opening credits and it’s easy to see why. Like all great fairytales, it’s as weird as it is wonderful.

Spencer (12A) is in cinemas from Friday 5 November