Pablo Larraín – “Diana was just beyond belief”

It is one of the most outstanding films of the year: In “Spencer” (currently in theaters), Chilean Pablo Larrain only reconstructed three days in the life of Lady Diana during the Christmas celebrations in 1991 at the royal Sandringham estate in Norfolk the royal family struggles; the scandal is literally in the room, the Queen and also husband Charles are beside themselves with anger over Diana Spencer and her un-royal behavior in Sandringham. The desperate princess, who is constantly vomiting and breaking out of courtly compulsion at every opportunity, is given additional guardians to ensure that the royal structure stays in balance. Alone: ​​With Kristen Stewart in the lead role of Diana Spencer, a plumb bob cannot be held vertically – she plays a Lady Diana with tremendous passion and love of freedom, who has never been seen before in the cinema. Pablo Larrain creates a multi-layered, always accurate picture of the captured princess and can hope for numerous Oscar nominations for “Spencer”.

“Wiener Zeitung”: In 2016 you made “Jackie” about Jackie Kennedy, a film about an influential public figure. What was the motivation to tell something about Lady Diana?

Pablo Larrain with Kristen Stewart at the acclaimed film premiere at the Venice Festival in September 2021. – © Katharina Sartena

Pablo Larrain: Diana Spencer was a projection figure for many of her contemporaries. This is the story of a princess who did not want to become queen, but developed her own identity. She levered out all the fairy tales we know from childhood when it came to queens and princesses, she turned this world upside down and surprised with her unconventional approaches to the subject. Because she was such a strong personality who never wanted to bow to the British royal family, I was interested in the approach to shed light on Diana’s vacillations between doubt and determination until the ultimate break for herself and her children. And the best way to do this is by examining a brief period of time in which all of their obligations came to light. She lived honesty and humanity, which is unprecedented to this day.

Where does the penchant for telling stories about famous women come from?

Both women, Diana and Jackie, were in a glaring spotlight that has to be dealt with first. They created their own identity, which was only partially fed by the world of their husbands. Each of them knew how to use the media of their time in their own way to convey a certain image of themselves to the outside world. When Diana decides to leave Charles and turn her back on the royal family and the life that goes with it, she makes the decision for herself, realizing that her identity is more important to her than that of the royal family or the nation. It does not meet them out of convenience, but out of inner necessity. She lives in an environment that crushes and belittles her and from which she has to protect herself and her children. Diana’s decision-making process, her vacillation between doubts and determination, which condenses on Sandringham over the Christmas period, only gives a very short insight into her life, but it is an example of the bigger picture.

For Diana, the big picture was her children, you emphasize that in the film.

At some point I understood that we were making a film about Diana’s role as a mother. I saw myself as a son thinking about her children. Diana was a beautiful woman who stood in public and who was able to open people’s hearts in an incredible way and who seemed almost unearthly. But then I found out that she really cared about these children like nothing else. Your sons are my generation, and that’s why I recognized Diana as my mother. I saw that I was actually making a film about my own mother here. A film about the mother of all of us. That was incredible.

How accurate is your film in relation to the real events that took place? Is everything made up or are there documented templates for your film?

Of course, I condensed the events, because in the film they only take place on three days, around Christmas 1991. Many of the stories in the media are true, others are made up. We have done extensive research on her person, the royal Christmas rituals and the anecdotes about the ghosts of Sandringham. But you can imagine: the silence of the royal family is legendary. Even if its members appear in public on certain occasions, at some point the doors close again and from then on everything that happens behind them remains a strict secret.

So did you have to use your imagination?

We didn’t want to make a docu-drama, but rather use elements of reality and our own imagination to reconstruct a woman’s life using the means of cinema. That is exactly what is wonderful about cinema: it leaves infinite room for imagination. Of course, for a feature film like this one that lives through its characters, the actors are crucial. A good working relationship between leading actress Kristen Stewart, cinematographer Claire Mathon and myself was essential to create a person that everyone thinks they know. I think that was the whole point.

Which qualities of Diana did you want to emphasize?

In no way did we want to use her image, which is known through the media. It was more about using the stylistic devices of cinema – time, space and sound – to create an inner world that conveys the mysteriousness and fragility of its character. These two qualities are particularly evident in scenes that have elements of the supernatural. But it should remain realistic, in no way drift into the spiritual or absurd.

With Kristen Stewart you have cast a woman who knows what it means to be in public. After all, she was only 18 when “Twilight” became a global hit.

Kristen Stewart is one of the great actresses of our time. She achieved this status because she brings something that is very important in films: an aura of mystery. It can simply never be deciphered. It doesn’t matter how many things she says, what she feels, what she’s going through. She has an inner angel that I saw through the camera lens, at least on the screen. And that’s exactly what I was looking for for this film, because Lady Diana was also unbelievable in truth. Before I even started working on this film and doing the very first research, I realized that it was impossible to really know who Diana was. Maybe having an actress who could play this mystery was a good idea.

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