A new film focuses on Christmas in Sandringham in 1992 … but Diana was not there this weekend


Any actress called upon to recreate the magic of Princess Diana has a difficult job. The list of those who have tried is long – from Catherine Oxenberg, the daughter of the naval officer, Serena Scott Thomas, to Spooks star Geneviève O’Reilly.

More recently, it was the turn of Naomi Watts, born in Australia, who, in the biopic of 2013, captured the style and the essence of what made Diana the most famous woman in the world, but was saddled with a lead script and an unconvincing plot.

Now Hollywood star Kristen Stewart, who has made a name for herself in the blockbuster movie Twilight, is preparing for her close-up in the role.

At 30, she is quite young and brings the necessary appeal of the box office, although it remains to be seen whether at only 5 feet 4 inches she can really take away the princess sashay, every 5 feet 10 inches.

More specifically, maybe it will ultimately be the first film to do justice to the princess, capturing not only her spirit and beauty but also the conflict in her life?

More specifically, maybe it will ultimately be the first film to do justice to the princess, capturing not only her spirit and beauty but also the conflict in her life?

Social media critics are not impressed. “Princess Di was known for her charm and charisma,” one wrote on Twitter. “I saw rocks with more personality than Kristen Stewart.”

It will be a few difficult months for Stewart, as Watts discovered when his film, originally titled Caught In Flight (the name was changed the day before it opened in Diana), was released in 2013.

Critics saved her – “terribly annoying” and “embarrassing” were among the nicest epithets.

This time, the script is written by Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight, while Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain, who directed the famous biopic Jackie in 2016, on former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, directs.

But will he be able to overtake an audience of millions of passionate Diana fans ready to criticize, as they have done with virtually all the productions that have gone on screen?

More specifically, maybe it will ultimately be the first film to do justice to the princess, capturing not only her spirit and beauty but also the conflict in her life?

Hollywood star Kristen Stewart, who made a name for herself in the blockbuster movie Twilight, prepares for her close-up in the role

Hollywood star Kristen Stewart, who made a name for herself in the blockbuster movie Twilight, prepares for her close-up in the role

Certainly, the film’s title, Spencer, offers intriguing possibilities. It was of course Diana’s last name before meeting and marrying the Prince of Wales.

And in Stewart, the producers chose an actress who herself tasted the bowl of goldfish from life after the hit Twilight saga when she was tracked – as Diana was – by the paparazzi.

But then there is the intrigue. According to the director, the film is an upside-down fairy tale.

“Usually the prince comes and finds the princess, invites her to become his wife and eventually she becomes queen,” said Larrain, who says he has always been “intrigued and fascinated” by the royal family.

“When someone decides not to be queen and says,” I prefer to go and be myself, “it’s a big, big decision, an upside-down fairy tale.”

The action takes place over three days – yes, only three days – and depends on what Senator Larrain claims to be the critical weekend when the princess decided that her marriage was over.

Focusing on such a narrow period of Diana’s life will inevitably exclude so many key moments from her history. But the real question is whether the film landed on the right period and even on the right backdrop?

The director places this episode in Sandringham, in Norfolk, the scene of so many royal dramas from the death of the queen’s father, King George VI in 1952, to the summit which decided the future of Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex in January.

And certainly Diana has appeared in some of these dramas herself.

She was born on the royal domain and spent the first 14 years of her life there. Later, after her separation from Prince Charles, she had to endure the cold hostility of the royal family when she made her Christmas visits increasingly brief at Sandringham House so that she could be present when Prince William and Prince Harry opened their gifts.

1989 was the year of the recording of the secret band

1989 was the year of the recording of the “Squidgygate” cassette secretly recorded with Diana in conversation with a close friend, James Gilbey (photo)

But the action is said by Pablo Larrain to take place in the early 1990s in Sandringham because she spent so many Christmas there.

In fact, during the first half-dozen years of their marriage, the royal family spent Christmas at Windsor Castle and did not transfer the celebration to Sandringham until the late 1980s.

In interviews in the United States, the director says that the date of the drama is “not specific”, and then suggests that it is Christmas 1992. It is a shame because it was the one and only year in which Diana was born wasn’t at Sandringham on Christmas Day at all – because her marriage was then over.

She and Charles had officially separated – their separation announced in the House of Commons by Prime Minister John Major – just over two weeks earlier and she could not bear to spend a night under the same roof as her ex- husband.

Instead, she spent it with her brother Earl Spencer and his young family in her ancestral home, Althorp, in Northamptonshire.

Of course, at this point, Diana had not yet been separated from the royal family. In his statement, the major surprised the deputies by suggesting that separation was not an obstacle for the princess to one day become queen alongside Charles.

Such an elastic choice of dates nevertheless shows that the artistic license is at work here, not only in the place but also in the idea that it came to the conclusion of its somber marriage over three days.

The truth is that she has been struggling with her domestic unhappiness for years. And there were very many times when she felt that she could not continue the marriage, but she persevered.

And the reason for this misfortune has nothing to do with whether or not she is queen – the central theme of director Larrain’s film.

For Diana, it was because of the presence of Camilla Parker Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, and the woman the princess described as the “third person” in her marriage.

Of course, this is not the first time that Hollywood has taken liberties with the facts to adapt a real life story – as he sees it – to the big screen. Sometimes it’s even understandable, but the Diana saga is so rich in possibilities and so many twists and turns that it seems crazy not to stick to the story.

The lessons of the success of the Netflix hit The Crown are surely clear: embellish by all means but stay close to the arc of history, the one that the public knows.

The director could have chosen a date three years earlier, for example, because 1989 was a very important moment in the history of the story of Charles and Diana.

It was the year of the secretly recorded tape of “Squidgygate” with Diana in conversation with a close friend, James Gilbey.

On the tape, the princess lays bare her despair at her marriage and her life. About Charles, she says: “It makes my life a real torture, I decided” and speaks of “doing something dramatic because I cannot bear the limits of this marriage.”

She describes the strange looks she says she receives from the Queen Mother.

“It’s not hate, it’s sort of mixed pity and interest. . . every time I look up, she looks at me, then looks away and smiles. “

Camilla Parker-Bowles and her sister, Annabel Elliot, leaving a musical recital at Spencer House in London

Camilla Parker-Bowles and her sister, Annabel Elliot, leaving a musical recital at Spencer House in London

In a dramatic impulse, she declares: “After all, I did for this f ****** family.”

The conversation would have taken place around New Years when the princess was indeed in Sandringham with Charles and the royal family. But it took another three years before the content of the tape – which would have been produced by an amateur radio enthusiast but which many believe to be the work of the security services – was finally released.

It was certainly a time when the future of royal marriage was hanging by a thread. But she did not choose to end it.

Diana’s former bodyguard at Scotland Yard, Ken Wharfe, is however convinced that 1989 was the year in which the princess considered her marriage to have ended. He sets the key date several months earlier and the extraordinary confrontation between the princess and her rival Mrs. Parker Bowles.

He came to Camilla’s 40th birthday party, Annabel Elliot, which was held at the Richmond home of socialite Lady Annabel Goldsmith. Charles and Diana were both invited, but no one expected the princess to introduce herself as she avoided any social meeting with Camilla.

Instead, she decided to find out that Camilla would be there. And because Diana left, Wharfe was there too. Their arrival amazed the guests.

“Everyone was in shock when they saw the princess there because they were Charles’s friends, not hers,” said the ex-police officer. “I almost couldn’t bear to see her humiliated in front of so many people. I felt very uncomfortable for her. “

But the Diane he was accompanying on this February night was far from embarrassed. In an upstairs living room, she searched for Camilla, ordered Charles to leave them, and, as she will remember later, said, “I just want you to know that I know exactly what’s going on.” past. I’m sorry to bother you. It must be hell for both of you. . . (but) don’t treat me like an idiot. “

Prince Charles is pictured with his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, walking for the Christmas service at Sandringham Church

Prince Charles is pictured with his sons, Prince William and Prince Harry, walking for the Christmas service at Sandringham Church

As Diana said, Camilla’s response was to say, “You have everything you always wanted. You have all the men in the world who fall in love with you and you have two beautiful children. What do you want more? “Diana replied,” I want my husband. “

That evening, Diana had decided to save her marriage to admit later that it was the evening when she realized that it was over.

But again, he faltered. There was a reason for this and it was more important than his personal happiness – the well-being of William and Harry.

The boys had been cut off from much of the bitterness that divided their parents, and Diana wanted it to continue.

If not 1989, what are the other dates that could have triggered his departure?

Would she have considered leaving Charles in 1987 when they no longer shared a room and that she was in love with cavalry officer James Hewitt? He still believed they had a future together, but she hadn’t. And then there was his passionate affair with the art dealer Oliver Hoare. This time she dreamed of a new life with him, when he knew he could never afford to keep the princess in the style she was used to.

All this could have merited treatment by film. However, Diana’s biographer Andrew Morton boldly suggests that the film could even have been made years earlier. It indicates when she was pregnant with Prince William and threw herself on the Sandringham staircase, landing at the feet of the Queen Mother.

“She was super depressed, she was undergoing treatment by psychotherapist Alan McGlashan and she had started dreaming of Camilla,” he says.

But it was in 1982, not even a year after the royal wedding and even by Hollywood standards, that would stretch credibility.

Which brings us back to the favorite period of director Larrain. The date of the Windsor Castle fire in November 1992 could be important. It was the last weekend the princess had spent in Highgrove, the country house she had decorated but hated because she believed it was Camilla’s domain now and symbolized everything that was rotten during the wedding.

Shortly after the separation, and despite the assurance from Buckingham Palace that she would attend “from time to time” on family occasions, she was absent from the marriage of Princess Anne to her second husband, the naval officer Tim Laurence.

And yet, Prince and Princess both attended the carols concert of the school of William and Harry and the Christmas party of their staff. It was the start of a new phase in the couple’s life and would suggest that despite everything, Diana never really wanted to end the marriage.

The new film will paint a picture of Diana realizing that she wants to be the woman she was before meeting Charles.

But it is a myth. The princess who ultimately emerged from the broken marriage was an infinitely more mundane and stronger figure than the shy teenage girl who entered it.

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