Daniela Elser: New Princess Diana movie ‘Spencer’ is bad news for Kate Middleton


At the 10-year mark in most jobs, you are entitled to long-service leave. Now, having hit that professional milestone, might be the time for Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, to start inquiring about whether an extended break is one of the perks of her royal gig.

Curiously, the woman about to make the future Queen’s life that much harder is Twilight star and scowl-aficionado Kristen Stewart with the first trailer for Spencer, her Diana, Princess of Wales biopic, debuting on Friday morning. The one minute-long clip shows the former teen star as the doomed princess, with Stewart’s Diana doing a lot of emotionally wrought running and mournful staring off into the distance.

Not a huge amount of detail is known about the project, set during some unspecified point in the early 90s over a three-day period at Christmas at Sandringham, Her Majesty’s private Norfolk estate, what seems unequivocal is that with Spencer, the royal family looks set for a fresh on-screen mauling.

Shots of fussy meals, long lonely corridors and ominous rolling mist all feature along with references to the five (count ’em) wardrobe changes required per day during the Windsors’ annual festive break hardly bode well for Team Corgi aka the royal family.

The gloomy, Gothic vibe of the whole thing portends very, very badly for The Firm, who have, in the decades since the Diana years, gone to great lengths to revamp their frosty image.

Responsible for much of that painstaking groundwork, one charming, intimate shot of her kids at a time, has been Kate. Now, the 39-year-old faces the possibility of watching the carefully cultivated brand she has largely been responsible for tending to and nurturing dealt a devastating blow.

For much of the 80s, all of the 90s and well into the 00s, the perception of the royal house was of a bunch of emotionally constipated aristocrats who seemed to care more about their ponies’ bloodlines than about the wellbeing of the more vulnerable souls in their midst.

The Diana story took on mythical proportions, the doomed, virginal sacrifice, the pretty debutante proffered up to keep the Windsors in the crown business.

For 15 years the world watched on as her story unfolded and for much of that time, if she was the heroine, then the villain of the piece was the royal family.

Her tale, along with that of Sarah, Duchess of York, transformed the concept of marrying into the royal house from romantic dream to real-life horror movie. The princess taught the world that to marry a top tier HRH was to submit oneself to this cabal of cold fish and that life within the gloomy palace was a harrowing, deeply lonely experience.

And then Kate Middleton, lover of knee-high boots and bouncy blow dries, emerged on the scene, pushing all the sadness and misery out of view and replacing it with a jolly hockey sticks cheer. As the 21st century took off, the next generation of frontline royals – Princes William and Harry – came into full view, and they, along with Kate, handily helped the royal family undergo something of a 21st century makeover.

Things started to seem settled and dare I say it, far less dysfunctional. Prince Charles married his paramour of three decades plus, Camilla Parker Bowles, with William and Harry regularly photographed looking at ease with their freshly minted stepmother.

In 2011, William and Kate tied the knot and the world swooned, totally enamoured with this youthful, peppy version of what the royal family could look like. She showed that, like the cowardly lion, they had a heart. The public started to see blood beat in the icy veins of the monarchy.

What Kate (and William) managed to do was to make the world forget about how, for decades, the Queen et al were synonymous with a certain callousness and emotional barbarism. Look! Another cute photo of Prince George! More adorable and relatable snaps of gambolling kids and dogs!

In the decade since then, Kate has done nothing but work assiduously hard to cement that picture of the royal family as, in fact, a family – even a relatively functional and happy one – transplanting the far more bitter vision that preceded it.

But now, all of that hard graft could be undone thanks to Spencer and the next season of The Crown, which will cover (roughly) the 90s including the final sour disintegration of Diana and Charles’ marriage and the princess’ tragic death.

These two big-budget projects could very well undermine Kate’s rehabilitation project by vividly reminding audiences the world over of one of the more shameful chapters in palace history.

With Spencer and The Crown, Diana’s suffering is about to be shunted back to the fore and with that, who was responsible, at least partly, for that suffering – i.e. the Queen, the Queen’s family members and the institution the Queen heads.

The benign, grandmotherly countenance that Her Majesty currently enjoys could be swiftly replaced with that of her as the head of an organisation that sucked in, chewed up and spat out a beautiful, if very fragile, woman.

The timing could not be worse, with Her Majesty’s image already under increasing pressure on multiple fronts.

For one thing, she has failed to adequately deal with the allegations of institutional racism raised by Harry and his wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex this year, trying and failing to sweep things under the (priceless Aubusson) carpet.

Even more dangerous for her is her continued public support of her son Prince Andrew after he was sued in a Manhattan courtroom this month for allegedly sexually assaulting Virignia Giuffre (formerly Roberts) when she as a 17-year-old “sex slave”. (The Duke of York has repeatedly and vigorously denied Giuffre’s claims.)

Still, the fact that the 95-year-old sovereign moved last week to ensure Andrew retains the prestigious role as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, despite him having stepped down as a working member of the royal family, is nothing short of the height of hypocrisy. Harry, having similarly quit as a representative of the Crown, was forced to relinquish his cherished military roles.

Whatever damage Spencer might do to the royal family’s standing, it will fall to Kate to try and regain that lost ground. Sigh. Not only does she have to bring up three small children and perennially ensure her hair is Insta-worthy, it will continue to fall to her shore up the house of Windsor every time their very chequered past painfully reasserts itself into the conversation and the news cycle.

For the Queen and her family, the ghost of (early 90s) Christmas past is back. Let the haunting, and for Kate, the bloody hard work, begin again …

– Daniela Elser is a royal expert and a writer with more than 15 years experience working with a number of Australia’s leading media titles.

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