Warning: The following article contains spoilers for ‘Spencer’.
The life of Princess Diana has long been under a microscopic lens, with her legion of followers and the mass media having an almost unhealthy obsession with unpacking the most minute details of her life.
In the years following her tragic death in 1997, aged just 36, the Princess has been the muse of numerous films, television series and documentaries. From The Crown to Lady Diana, there’s few new revelations to be made about her.
That’s why when the latest biopic, Spencer, was announced, fans were curious as to what there could possibly be left to say about the People’s Princess.
Starring Kristen Stewart, the film (set in the early 1990s) takes place over an eventful Christmas at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate, when Diana realises her marriage to Prince Charles is on the verge of collapse.
The movie itself, which was directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín, has received high praise for its gripping narrative, not least because the themes it covers are based on the real life love story of Charles and Diana, one of the 20th century’s most famous couples.
But at the very beginning of the film, we’re warned not to take its narrative entirely as fact. A preamble shown on-screen describes it as, “A fable from a true tragedy”.
So just how real is the film? Here, we recount what’s true and what’s false in Spencer.
Is Spencer based on true events?
To put it simply, the key events that transpire between the royals at Christmas time in Spencer are fictional, though that’s not to say the themes are entirely made up.
A key storyline in the film covers the breakdown of Prince Charles and Princess Diana’s relationship, and it’s commonly known that Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ marriage began to splinter between the late 1980s and the early 1990s. At the time, media outlets published endless reports that the pair’s relationship was in trouble, with rumours running wild.
In 1988, Vanity Fair claimed Diana was, “the love object of everyone in the world except her husband.”
To add, The Daily Mirror reported in 1990 that Diana had got into a terrible fight with Charles on New Years eve while they were staying at Sandringham.
The publication claimed the Princess had even driven alone to Norfolk beach in order to escape the drama that was unfolding. Though never confirmed by Larraín, this report could have been the initial inspiration behind Spencer given the film is set around the same time.
So what actually is true in Spencer?
While the specific events and dialogue from the film are made up, there are some elements to the film that are a fair representation of the royal life Princess Diana led.
For one, the royals actually do spend Christmas at Sandringham every year. A decades-old tradition, members of the royal family stay at the estate over the holiday period, and are often snapped attending a Christmas Day mass at the nearby St Mary Magdalene Church.
In 2019, Kate Middleton and Prince William even brought their two eldest children Prince George and Princess Charlotte along for the service. They were pictured leaving together alongside other royal family members including Prince Charles, Duchess Camilla and the Queen herself.
Surprisingly, this is actually true. The real-life royals do this each year due to a tradition dating back to Edward VII of the early 1910s. The British Monarch apparently wanted to ensure his guests “ate well”.
To add, Spencer‘s Diana explains that guests are expected to gain three pounds or more during their stay—but that specific number has never been confirmed.
The film also delves into Princess Diana’s struggle with bulimia, which she was open about in her 1992 biography, Diana, Her True Story. The book was written by Andrew Morton with the total cooperation of Diana herself.
“The bulimia started the week after we got engaged and would take nearly a decade to overcome,” she explains in the book.
While Larraín has been clear from the start that the film is not based on a specific event in Diana’s life, there’s no doubt it provides viewers with an impression of the realities of marrying into the royal family.
Of course, it’s no secret that Diana herself struggled under the expectations of The Firm. The strict protocols she was forced to follow, combined with her every movement being watched by both senior royals and the thousands of camera lenses fixed firmly on her, plus going through a marriage breakdown—it would would take its toll on anyone.
Those are the real-life themes that Spencer attempts to explore—as to whether we ourselves will be convinced is up to our own opinion.
Spencer is set for release in Australia on January 26, 2022