Kristen Stewart Is Haunted by a Ghost of the Royals' Past in the Gorgeous 'Spencer'

Pablo Larraín's film, out in select theaters November 5, is more of a ghost story about the late Princess Diana than it is a biopic.


To find out Spencer session times near you, head to hoyts.com.au.

The first line Kristen Stewart utters as Princess Diana in Spencer, the not-quite-biopic from director Pablo Larraín, is: “Where the fuck am I?” She says it under her breath as she zips around the English countryside in a Porsche, responding to the fact that Diana is quite literally lost as she tries to venture to the royals’ Sandringham estate by herself. But the way Stewart speaks it, the dialogue is almost like a premonition of the liminal state the princess and this movie exists in, a zone where the living and dead collide.

In its opening moments, Spencer announces itself as a “fable from a true tragedy.” Familiar iconography collides with the spectral to craft a version of Diana that is both recognizable and detached from her previous representations. Stewart does not transform into the figure we know from newscasts and The Crown so much as she interprets her through a series of whispered words and bowed heads. Spencer is exquisite camp mashed up with body horror and A Christmas Carol. It’s a delicious apricot soufflé, rich and fluffy all at the same time, but it might also make you a little nauseous.

Steven Knight’s script takes place over three days during the Christmas holiday in 1991 as Diana’s marriage to Charles (Jack Farthing) is crumbling, but Spencer isn’t really interested in the historical timeline. It could be the early 1990s or the 16th century for all the filmmakers care. As Diana says to her children when they ask why they open presents on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning: “There is no future. The past and present are the same thing.”


The plot-for what it is-is guided entirely by the rituals of the crown. Diana must keep herself together as she is subjected to one tightly scheduled event after another, be it tea or church or dinner. All the while she is being haunted. Early in the film, she takes a jacket she believes once belonged to her father off of a scarecrow. It looms over her room, a figure to which she talks and tends. But there’s another presence: the ghost of Anne Boleyn, the cautionary tale about behaving yourself in these halls lest you lose your head.

Stewart’s Diana is on edge from the moment she appears on screen, vibrating in her own skin to the tune of Jonny Greenwood’s jittery score where horns blare and strings pierce. Larraín frames her in close up, cinematographer Claire Mathon’s camera hovering just underneath Stewart’s chin as the actress almost tries to use her own eyelids to shield her from public view. Stewart plays Diana as if the weight of being perceived is nearly too much to bear. And yet her Princess of Wales is also funny and playful, traits that come out especially in the scenes alongside her two sons (Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry).

William and Harry are the only other members of the royal family who get much attention in Spencer. Diana shares some scenes with Farthing’s Charles, but they are cold and guided by protocol. Aside from her kids, Diana’s only sources of comfort in the halls of Sandrigham are provided by members of the staff, and yet those interactions are plagued by uncertainty, too. A foreboding sign in the kitchen where chef Darren (Sean Harris) monologues to his staff as if they are going into battle cautions that the walls of this castle are thin. That tension is even present in Diana’s relationship with Maggie (Sally Hawkins, lovely), her dresser who appears to be a genuine friend.

This is not the first time Larraín has deconstructed a woman better known for her tragedy and fashion than her inner life, and Spencer makes an excellent companion to his Jackie, which looked at Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (Natalie Portman) in the days following her husband’s death. Larraín recognizes the voyeurism with which the audience will approach these women, and doesn’t deny viewers those pleasures while still digging deeper into her private persona and achieving an artistic high. He understands that we want to see Diana running in her famous wedding dress and dancing in vast rooms, but those moments are not just for show. They are part of the lyrical way Larraín sees the fantasy of her liberation in the face of a rigid institution that wanted her to conform to their exacting rules and traditions. Larraín is dealing in alternate realities that nevertheless effectively probe our collective perception of history. Like the jazz that permeates Greenwood’s music, Spencer is a riff on Diana with Larraín and Stewart operating at the peak of their powers.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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