Some films have to work harder than others to get bums on seats. Some can charm audiences with big stars, or the lure of a continuing franchise, or the promise of a scene where King Kong takes a swing at Godzilla like he’s half-cut in a Wetherspoons car park. And then, right at the other end of the scale, is Spencer.
Make no mistake, Spencer will have to be brilliant to make people go and see it. Better than brilliant, even. It will have to be the perfect movie; entertaining and fun and moving and so technically accomplished that film historians will come to view it as the moment that cinema entered a new epoch. Anything less than that and Spencer is done for.
Because it’s just up against so much. Spencer is a film about Princess Diana that will exist in the wake of Emma Corrin’s extraordinary, definitive performance in The Crown; it will star Kristen Stewart. It’s the first feature big feature film to be made about the princess since 2013’s Diana, a film bad enough to be labelled “car crash cinema” by Peter Bradshaw.
It has already been heralded as a totem of post-Brexit failure, after it was (apparently inaccurately) reported that Prince William couldn’t be played by anyone with a British passport over visa fears. It’s being filmed in Germany, for crying out loud. Have these people no decency?
And now, as production begins, a new image of Stewart as Diana has been released. And, while it would obviously be incredibly stupid to judge an entire movie that hasn’t even been made yet on the basis of a single photo, it looks a little like Spencer might just have pulled it out of the bag.
Again, this is all very premature, but there is no denying that Stewart looks like Princess Diana. She’s all eyes and awkward head-tilt, and it’s hard to tell if she’s looking at something that she really likes or something that’s objectively repulsive. That’s the trademark Diana look, and Stewart pulls it off without a hitch.
Working against the photo, however, is the fact that Stewart is wearing a black birdcage veil. It’s easy to look vague and mysterious when you’re essentially hiding behind a portable net curtain, but much less so when you’re having to emote at full-tilt at an actor dressed as Prince Charles in broad daylight, which is presumably what 95% of this film is going to be anyway.
We do, at least, have some idea what Stewart will sound like. Statistically, given that at the time it felt as if it had been made expressly to be the sixth film anyone would watch on a long-haul flight, you are unlikely to remember anything about Snow White and the Huntsman. However, its one saving grace was Stewart’s British accent. It was entirely convincing, hitting the exact self-conscious, detached-jaw, pseudo-estuary drawl that posh people have adopted now they’ve realised how silly received pronunciation sounds. She sounded exactly like Prince William, basically. That has to work in its favour.
What’s more, some more of Spencer’s cast has been announced, and it includes Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins and Sean Harris, who are all dazzlingly reliable actors. It will be scored by Jonny Greenwood and directed by Pablo Larraín. You’ll remember that Larraín’s last English-language film was Jackie, a work that elevated what had the potential to be a cosily prestigious middlebrow piece of Oscar bait into something so nervy and paranoid that at times it functioned as an all-out horror movie. A Jackie about Princess Diana has the potential to be truly astonishing.
So maybe, just maybe, Spencer has what it takes to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Chuck in a scene where King Kong karate chops Godzilla in the face and I’m sold.