For Spencer, Turning the Queen’s Country Home Into an “Elegant Prison”

Billed as “a fable from a true tragedy,” the new movie Spencer imagines Princess Diana behind Sandringham palace walls as they begin to close in on her during an early 1990s Windsor family Christmas gathering. Kristen Stewart plays the radiant but vulnerable royal who is bulimic, paranoid, and haunted by the ghost of a 16th-century monarch. She delights in a reunion with her boys, Prince William (Jack Nielen) and Prince Harry (Freddie Spry), but chafes at the weekend’s antiquated holiday traditions, including a customary weigh-in to confirm pounds have been put on, and endless formal meals. Worse still, she’s trapped in a loveless marriage to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) and knows she’s not the only one to whom he has gifted a luminescent pearl necklace.

For Spencer, Turning the Queen’s Country Home Into an “Elegant Prison”

Production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas did extensive research into the design and customs of the Queen’s Norfolk estate to fashion the look for this fractured fairy tale, but wasn’t wed to them. “[Director] Pablo [Lorraín] and I talked about creating an elegant prison,” he tells AD. “We allowed ourselves to move away from just simply replicating Sandringham…to express Diana’s feelings of isolation. The fact that there was no escape, no end in sight, a permanent game of dress up.” So audiences are immersed in an aristocratic environment that’s “beautiful and inviting on the surface, but with an undertone of misery and anguish for Diana.”

Two German palaces—whose architecture doesn’t match each other, or Sandringham’s Jacobean style—are stand-ins for the country retreat. Baroque Nordkirchen Castle, now a university, was used for exteriors; Tudor-style Schlosshotel Kronberg, a castle that is currently a hotel, provided some interiors. British Dyas was so conscious that the “fanaticism” surrounding the royal family and Diana would lead to intense scrutiny, he purposely created “an insanely complicated jigsaw puzzle [of scenes] designed to confuse the audience.” A soccer stadium kitchen served as the spot where delicacies are delivered to the castle with military precision; part of a brewery was the staff’s subterranean quarters; and a mix of locations and sets became the gilded dining room, antiques-filled bedrooms, and a mirrored corridor.