Spencer director Pablo Larraín said Saturday that while he and screenwriter Steven Knight took different immersive paths when developing the film’s screenplay, the result was unlike any other he’d worked on: the finished script matched the final edit scene for scene.
“The movie right now has the same order – exactly the same order – as the script… which is highly unusual,” Larraín said during a panel with Knight at Deadline’s Contenders Film: New York, adding that the Neon and Topic movie was conceived as a fable about the life of Princess Diana (played by Kristen Stewart) rather than a more conventional biopic.
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The pair had previously collaborated on the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis-inspired film Jackie, and Larraín said Knight’s process is a swift one without an abundance of drafts. “He wrote it really quickly, which is very amazing,” said the director. “He’s not a man who does a lot of drafts. He delivered the first one then we worked on it and then we made a list of ideas, and then he did some of them. I added, in the process, the montage scene, the dancing sequence.”
Despite the abundance of material chronicling the princess’ life, Knight resisted taking a deep dive and instead consulted direct sources himself. “I didn’t watch any documentaries or read any books or watch any fiction – I managed to get hold of people who were actually there for that weekend and managed to get true stories,” he explained. “And any writer will know that true stories are always more bizarre and strange and baffling than anything that you can make up.”
Those conversations, Knight said, “became a series of stepping stones which were true events, and in between Pablo and I managed to weave the fable: the idea was that Diana was someone who was observed the moment that she became Charles’ wife. What we wanted to do was to look from inside her head out, so that what we’re seeing is Diana’s observations of the world.”
Conversely, Larraín did exhaustive research himself. “Diana is someone that we think we know a lot,” he said. “Unlike Steve, I did see everything, and the more I saw, the less I knew. And after making this movie after three years…I can tell you I have no idea who she was.”
Larraín said Stewart shares a unique, inherently unknowable quality with Diana that helped fuel her bravura performance as the royal.
“There’s something really relevant for me in the way that I enjoy cinema,” he said. “I believe that the main actors when they’re holding the perspective of the movie, they need to create some sort of ambiguous dance in between what we understand and what we don’t. And even though sometimes the character can express what they’re feeling and seeing and going through, there’s something that can never be entirely revealed, and I think Kristin has that. That’s what I think is the miracle part of it, is that there’s something some amount of mystery that you will never really be able to break through.
Larraín’s reimagining of a Royal Christmas at Sandringham journeys into the mind of a lonely and disturbed Princess Diana as she navigates the “house rules” during the breakdown of her marriage to Charles. Written by Knight (Locke), the story follows the strict regimen of the princess’s wardrobe, endless formal family meals and a dramatic pheasant shoot, punctuated by Diana’s anxiety attacks and imaginings of ill-fated queens past. Jack Farthing, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall and Sean Harris also star.
Check out the panel video above.
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