Spencer true story

A deep dive into the plot of Spencer to find out exactly which parts are true

Kristen Stewart’s Diana film is billed as ‘a fable from a true tragedy’

Spencer, the new film by Pablo Larraín and arguably one of the most discussed and anticipated of the year, finally hit cinemas earlier this month to critical acclaim. Starring Kristen Stewart as Diana, Princess of Wales, Spencer is a nightmarish interpretation of the three days Diana spent at Sandringham over Christmas 1991 – as her marriage to Prince Charles was falling apart due to his affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles. The life of Diana has never been represented on screen more than it is currently. We’re barely a year on from Emma Corrin’s acclaimed performance as the ill-fated Royal in The Crown season four, we’re seeing pictures emerge of Elizabeth Debicki’s take on the character for season five and now Kristen Stewart’s Diana has put her firmly in the race for Best Actress at next year’s Academy Awards. Spencer opens with a clear declaration that it’s a work of fiction, stating that what you’re about to watch is ‘a fable from a true tragedy’. It’s a fever dream interpretation of what those fateful days at Sandringham House might have been like, but how much of the Spencer story is actually true?

Here’s a deep dive into the plot and story of Spencer and which parts are true and which are fable:

Did the three day Sandringham Christmas actually happen?

The Royal Family do spend Christmas at Sandringham every year, and the events of Spencer take place on Diana’s final Christmas there before her official separation from Charles in December 1992. The film’s plot is a fictional interpretation by Pablo Larraín and writer Steven Knight – but it’s likely Diana had to go through a lot of protocol and tradition like depicted in the film.

Was Diana actually weighed when she got there?

Diana would have been weighed when she got to Sandringham House, because there’s a longstanding tradition started by Edward VII in which everyone would get weighed before the stay and after the stay to lightheartedly comment on how much they enjoyed themselves over Christmas. A weight gain would imply that everyone had indulged and therefore had a nice time. In Spencer, the tradition is used to amplify Diana’s bulimia and helps to build the recurring motif of food in the plot.

Is Timothy Spall’s character Major Gregory a real historical figure?

Timothy Spall as Major Gregory

No, the character of Major Gregory is fictional. Gregory spends the film watching Diana like a hawk, and serves as a representation of the institution Diana has married into and a physical presence to remind her of how trapped she feels.

Did Prince Charles actually buy Diana and Camilla the same pearl necklace for Christmas?

From all that research will suggest, this is another fictional plot point. In the film, the necklace is a metaphor for how trapped Diana feels for by her marriage and it often appears like it’s choking her and weighing her down. In the nightmarish hallucination she has about ripping it off and the pearls going into the pea soup, it’s a visual reminder of how Diana’s eating disorder and the marriage are tearing her up.

Is Sally Hawkins’ character Maggie a real person?

The character of Maggie in Spencer, and the profession of her love for Diana on the beach scene, are fictional. However, Diana was allegedly very close to her real life dresser Fay Appleby – who travelled and dressed Diana for six years and the two were good friends.

Was the real Diana as chatty with the staff as the Diana in Spencer?

This is true. Sean Harris portrays Darren McGrady in Spencer, who was the Royal chef, told the Express that Diana frequently would make an effort to come and talk to the staff. “Once the Queen and the royals had left the dining room, Princess Diana just liked to come in for a chat, just sort of walk around the kitchen and see what was going on.”

Did Diana actually self harm and have an eating disorder?

The eating disorder is a main theme of Spencer, and is a crucial part of Diana in the film reclaiming her agency and decision making in the most self-damaging way possible after feeling so stripped of it. Diana did actually suffer from bulimia, and spoke about in tapes she sent to the biographer Andrew Morton, who released Diana: Her True Story In Her Own Words in 1992. She did also self harm, but not with wire cutters at Sandringham. She told Morton she did cut herself at Balmoral Castle.

Spencer true story

Did Diana actually grow up next to the Sandringham Estate?

Yep. Park House was built as an extra to Sandringham House for overspill guests, before eventually becoming Diana’s family home when she was a child. It is actually in as close proximity to Sandringham as its depicted in the film, but the storyline showing Diana going there in the night and breaking in is fictionalised.

Did Diana actually have an obsession with Anne Boleyn?

The parallels between Diana and Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn are a vital part of the eerie nature of Spencer, but Diana’s fixation on the Tudor queen is fictional. There are numerous parallels to be drawn between the two, with Henry’s wandering eye going to Jane Seymour being comparable to Charles with Camilla. However, the Spencer story point that the two actually are distant relatives is true – with Diana being Anne Boleyn’s 13th great-grandniece.

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