Granger on Film: ‘Spencer’ is a surreal, compassionate look at Princess Diana

Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana in "Spencer." (Neon/TNS)

Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana in "Spencer." (Neon/TNS)

Neon / TNS

Pablo Larrain’s “Spencer” profiles the late Princess of Wales during the 1991 Christmas weekend at Sandringham before she and Prince Charles separated. It’s a stunning performance piece that may catapult Kristen Stewart onto the Oscar dais.

Queen Elizabeth’s Sandringham House is an immense Jacobean mansion, isolated on 20,000 acres on the Norfolk Coast. It’s where England’s dysfunctional royal family celebrates the winter holiday.

Labeled “A Fable from a True Tragedy,” it begins as self-sabotaging Diana (Stewart), who ditched her security detail in London, gets lost driving her BMW convertible.

After she’s duly weighed-in on a pair of antique scales, she’s chastised for arriving late.

“Why do we have to open our presents on Christmas Eve, not Christmas Day like everybody else?” asks young William. “Daddy told Harry it’s because Father Christmas does queens and kings the day before everybody else so we get the best presents.”

Like a captive animal, closely watched Diana is herded from one frosty family gathering to another, observing tradition and strict protocols. Required to change fashionable outfits several times a day, her only confidante is her dresser, Maggie (Sally Hawkins).

Forced to wear the large pearls Charles gave her — after presenting his mistress Camilla with an identical gift — Diana yanks the necklace from her neck, dropping pearls in her soup, then popping them into her mouth and chewing them up.

Admittedly bulimic and lonely, increasingly paranoid, self-pitying Diana is haunted by the ghost of another wronged wife, Anne Boleyn, beheaded by adulterous Henry VIII.

Perhaps Chilean director Pablo Larrain conceived this as a companion piece to “Jackie” (2016) with Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy after JFK’s assassination. Likewise, Diana’s travails are condensed into a short period of time and presented with utmost compassion.

What’s particularly effective is how Larrain, screenwriter Steven Knight, cinematographer Clair Mathon and musician Jonny Greenwood evoke psychological horror, heightening Diana’s emotions, ferociously embodied by Stewart.

FYI: Those ‘pearls’ were actually crunchy chocolate candy.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Spencer” is a surreal, absurdist 7, only in theaters.

Susan Granger has been an on-air television and radio commentator and entertainment critic for more than 25 years. Raised in Hollywood, Granger appeared as a child actress in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, and Lassie. She currently resides in Westport.