Is edgy, sweary, Los Angeles born actor Kristen Stewart the right choice to play our cherished and refined Princess Diana? When it was announced that Stewart had been cast in a new biopic, Spencer, directed by Pablo Larrain, Twitter exploded. Surely a homegrown actor could have been found to play one of the most iconic British women of all time? Would none of our own stars – The Little Drummer Girl’s Florence Pugh, Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, The Trial of Christine Keeler’s Sophie Cookson, or Baby Driver’s Lily James, not have suited the role better? Does petite, angular Stewart even look the slightest bit like our willowy, doe eyed Diana?
Actually, Stewart is an inspired choice. I’m pleased we’re not getting another bland English rose and that the director has been courageous enough to cast against type.
The royal commentator Leslie Carroll has suggested that Stewart’s fan base from her starring role in the tweeny Twilight films is what got her the part. But this appraisal shows a lack of familiarity with Stewart’s back catalogue.
Yes, she takes big Studio productions – Twilight, Snow White and the Huntsman, a remake of Charlie’s Angels – in her stride. But she has done just as well working on smaller, smarter, independent films, including those by Woody Allen (Café Society) and Oliver Assayas. Her turn in the latter’s film Clouds of Sils Maria made her the first American actress to bag a Cesar Award (a French Oscar).
Her second collaboration with Assayas – for the strange and spooky film Personal Shopper – saw her masturbating in front of a ghost. It must have been challenging to act. It was hard enough to watch. I remember it far too well, having unwittingly gone to see it with my dad.
I suspect getting into character won’t be much of a stretch for Stewart. If you look closely, there are several striking similarities between the two women’s personal lives. Just like Diana, Stewart experienced what it’s like to be one half of a world-famous couple via her relationship to Brit actor and Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson. She also knows what it’s like to be at the sharp end of intense media scrutiny, via an affair. Whilst still dating Pattinson, Stewart was photographed kissing film director Rupert Sanders (then married to Liberty Ross and the father of their two children), whom she was working with on “Snow White” at the time. Cue hysteria from the tabloids and tween Twilight fans.
Reflecting on the situation in 2016, Stewart said of her time with Pattinson, “our relationship was made into a product. It wasn’t real life anymore”. No doubt Stewart will be able to draw on such thoughts when she films Spencer, the main focus of which will be Diana’s decision to end her marriage with Charles.
Upending her fairy-tale relationship with Pattinson is not the first time Stewart has put two fingers up to Hollywood and its expectations, either. Whilst other teen starlets would prance around on the red carpet spinning and grinning, Stewart became known for not smiling at all. “I’m not the typical showman”, she conceded.
In 2018 at the Cannes film festival, she removed her heels on the red carpet, carrying them up the stairs as she walked barefoot, flouting the festival’s no-flats policy. She has also left behind the Hollywood hunks, and was recently in a relationship with the female supermodel Stella Maxwell. Just like Diana, who once described herself as a “free spirit” and ultimately chose to favour independence and her own free will over society’s expectations, Stewart is carving her own, honest path in Hollywood – one which refuses to bow to regressive conventions. As director Larrain puts it: “When someone decides not to be the queen and says, ‘I’d rather go and be myself’, it’s a big, big decision… that is the heart of the movie”.
Of course, Stewart will need to master Diana’s gentle, sloaney accent. She will also need to ensure she captures her warmth. But there really is no need for nationalism or protectionism when it comes to our film industry. More often than not the flow of traffic works in everyone’s favour. Indeed, we have just had Emma Watson, Florence Pugh and Saoirse Ronan (who’s Irish) take the lead roles in American story “Little Women”. Over on our shores, it’s hard to think of two more quintessentially British characters than Margaret Thatcher and Bridget Jones. But two Americans, Meryl Streep and Renee Zellweger, nailed those parts. I have a feeling that Kristen Stewart is about to do the same.