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‘Spencer’ creator reveals how difficult it was to cast Princess Diana

Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Kristen Stewart promoting Spencer in London in October (Image credit: Samir Hussein/WireImag)

Spencer creator Steven Knight has spoken about how difficult it was to cast the part of Princess Diana after various badly-received attempts to tell the tragic story of her short life.

US actress Kristen Stewart agreed to play Diana, a brave move for a young American star and one that could be a potential career-ender, or at least, one that might take time to recover from (witness Naomi Watts in 2013’s Diana).

But the initial reaction to Kristen’s performance is positive, with The Guardian’s 5-star review describing her performance as “entirely compelling”.

Steven, who is also the creator and show runner of Peaky Blinders, told The Telegraph: “We kept hearing that someone loved the part, but she was worried about what the response might be. There was a sense that ‘If even Naomi Watts couldn’t do it...’ It was like we were setting ourselves up as a coconut shy for abuse.”

Twilight star Kristen had no such reservations. The challenge was irresistible and Steven said: “She read it and loved it and was prepared to do all of the stuff required to get it right.”

For her part, Kristen says she felt Diana’s presence as she filmed the movie, which tells the story of a single fraught Christmas at the Royal family’s Sandringham estate in 1991.

“The really sad thing is that Diana, as normal and casual and disarming her air was, felt so isolated and lonely,” she said at the Venice Film Festival. “She made everyone else feel accompanied, and bolstered by a beautiful light – and all she wanted was to have it back. It’s the idea of somebody being so desperate for connection, and able to make other people feel so good, feeling so bad on the inside.”

Kristen added: “We haven’t had many of those people throughout history. Diana stands out as a just as a sparkly house on fire.”

Spencer is set over three days and depicts a frosty world of tension and hierarchies, which the awkward princess tries to survive without compromising her sense of self and dignity.

The Windsors aren’t the villains of Spencer, but nor are they loveable aristocrats.

“I didn’t want them as baddies,” says Steven. “I’m by no means an anti-royalist. There’s a lot to believe in.”

Spencer opens in the UK on Friday, Nov 5.