All Research

Spencer: History vs. Hollywood


Kristen Stewart
Born: April 9, 1990
Los Angeles, California, USA

Princess Diana
Born: July 1, 1961
Birthplace: Park House, Sandringham, Norfolk, England, UK
Death: August 31, 1997, Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris, France (car crash)

Jack Farthing
Born: October 14, 1985
London, England, UK

Prince Charles
Born: November 14, 1948
Birthplace: Buckingham Palace, London, England, UK

Jack Nielen
Born: August 05, 2009
Chelsea, London, England, UK

Prince William
Born: June 21, 1982
Birthplace: London, England, UK

Freddie Spry
Born: June 21, 2011
London, England, UK

Prince Harry
Born: September 15, 1984
Birthplace: London, England, UK

Stella Gonet
Born: May 8, 1963
Greenock, Scotland, UK

Queen Elizabeth II
Born: April 21, 1926
Birthplace: 17 Bruton Street, Mayfair, London, UK

Richard Sammel
Born: October 13, 1960
Heidelberg, Germany

Prince Philip
Born: June 10, 1921
Birthplace: Mon Repos, Corfu, Kingdom of Greece
Death: April 9, 2021, Windsor Castle, Windsor, UK

Emma Darwall-Smith
Born: 1974
Bristol, England, UK

Camilla Parker Bowles
Born: July 17, 1947
Birthplace: King's College Hospital, London, England, UK

Sean Harris
Born: January 7, 1966
Bethnal Green, London, England, UK

Chef Darren McGrady
Born: 1962
Birthplace: Nottinghamshire, England, UK

Historical Accuracy (Q&A):

When does Spencer take place?

The Spencer movie takes place over the course of three days during the Christmas holidays in 1991, when Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) joins the Royal Family at Sandringham House, a private home of her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II. With her marriage having deteriorated (largely due to Prince Charles' ongoing affair with Camilla Parker Bowles), Diana makes the difficult decision to separate from Charles (the pair wouldn't officially divorce until 1996). At the same time, she fears what the consequences will be for going through with her decision, at one point even wondering aloud if they might have her killed. Spencer is not based on the true story of Princess Diana directly, but was rather inspired by her life. More on that to follow.

Princess Diana (left) wearing a red coat and black veil in 1993 and Kristen Stewart (right) veiled in Spencer.

Did the Queen really explain to Diana that regardless of all the pictures taken of her, she is nothing more than currency?

No. In researching how true is Spencer, we found no evidence that this exchange between Diana (Kristen Stewart) and her mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II (Stella Gonet), over breakfast in the film ever happened in real life. In the movie, the Queen remarks, "They take a lot of photographs of you, don't they?" She goes on to explain to Diana, "The only portrait that matters is the one they put on the 10-pound note. When they take that one, my dear, you understand that all you really are is currency." As with so much of the Spencer movie, you quickly realize that what you're watching is not historically accurate.

How much of Spencer is based on a true story?

Spencer openly admits that it contains far more fiction than fact. At the start of the movie, we're told that it's "a fable from a true tragedy." Unlike the 2013 Princess Diana biopic starring Naomi Watts, as well as her depiction in Netflix's The Crown, this version does not attempt to stay in the confines of the Princess Diana true story (or at least as much as we know of it). Instead, while inspired by reality, much of what unfolds is imagined. The movie's distributors, Neon and Topic Studios, state as much in their official description of the film, "Spencer is an imagining of what might have happened during those few fateful days."

Princess Diana (left) pictured in a plaid coat and Kristen Stewart (right) in a similar outfit in the movie.

Spencer twists the real-life headlines and scandals into scenes that are part metaphor, part nightmarish tale, and part an attempt to present an outlandish but engaging version of what might have unfolded over Christmas at Sandringham in 1991. The royals are portrayed with a touch of absurdity, and the estate is depicted in such a way that it could at times double for The Overlook Hotel from Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. That being said, the movie pulls back the veneer, brings long-held criticisms of the royals to life, and offers a not-so-flattering examination of the institution itself. It would be hard to argue that there's not at least some truth there.

Spencer presents Diana neither as a princess nor as a rebel princess, but rather as the flesh-and-blood woman she was. As Variety pointed out, what we see on the screen is essentially a sort of "dream projection of her inner life."

Is Timothy Spall's character, Equerry Major Alistair Gregory, based on a real person?

No. In researching the Spencer true story, we found no evidence that Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall) existed in real life. He appears to be an invented character who functions to make sure the press is kept at bay and Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) is kept on a short leash during the Royal Family's Christmas holiday weekend at Sandringham House in the film. At best, he was inspired by similar royal employees who monitored the actions of the Princess.

Timothy Spall's character, the domineering Equerry Major Alistair Gregory, is fictional.

Was Princess Diana weighed upon her arrival at Sandringham House?

In the Spencer movie, the overbearing fictitious equerry, Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall), weighs Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) upon her arrival at Sandringham House. The film implies this was done to track Diana's eating disorder, bulimia nervosa. However, a Spencer fact-check reveals this is not historically accurate. In reality, per a tradition started by King Edward VII, all of the guests are weighed prior to the start of the Christmas festivities. The idea is that if they put on adequate pounds by the time they leave, it proves that they had a good enough time because they enjoyed a substantial amount of food.

Is the scene where Princess Diana imagines breaking her necklace and eating the pearls out of her soup inspired by a real-life event?

No. Disgusted by having to wear a pearl necklace that Charles had also bought for his mistress, Camilla Parker Bowles, Diana (Kristen Stewart) enters into a sort of trance and imagines snapping the necklace at dinner, sending the pearls cascading down around her, including into her pea soup. She then begins to eat the pearls, crunching them painfully with her teeth and then fleeing the table in agony. This scene is entirely fictional and is meant to symbolize what is happening in Diana's life. She is wanting to break away from the Royal Family after being forced to digest their traditions and now her husband's cheating.

Princess Diana revealed that she had known about Prince Charles' affair with Camilla Parker Bowles for years.

Did Princess Diana ever tell her dresser to leave so that she could pleasure herself?

No. The Spencer true story reveals that while it's played for shock value in the movie, there's zero evidence that Princess Diana ever said this to a dresser in real life. The scene has drawn criticism from historians and fans, who find it out of character and demeaning to the late Princess. It's possible that the scene was very loosely inspired by a leaked phone call in 1989 in which actor James Gilbey, with whom Diana was having an affair, called her "Squidgy" and discussed masturbation.

Is the 1991 Christmas weekend in the movie inspired by what Princess Diana experienced that year in real life?

Not exactly. In researching Spencer's historical accuracy, we learned that Christmastime at Sandringham was often difficult for Princess Diana, and not just in 1991, which was Charles and Diana's final Christmas together before officially separating in early December of the following year. In season 4 of Netflix's The Crown, the 1990 holiday at Sandringham House is depicted as the Christmas from hell. The royals, including Diana's husband Prince Charles, completely ignore her. Only Prince Philip is honest with her, explaining to her that she is a servant of the Queen. Given how bad things had started to become by then for Diana, it makes sense that the following year's Christmas depicted in Spencer would have been worse. However, the movie makes little effort to be historically accurate (in part because we don't know exactly what unfolded). Instead, it offers an imagined version that's an exaggeration of what might have taken place.

The movie's depiction of Diana's experience over Christmas at Sandringham House (pictured) in 1991 is speculation at best.

Diana's former butler, Paul Burrell, said that Diana had confessed to him that she'd be "crawling the walls" by the end of Christmas at Sandringham and "couldn't wait to escape" ( Burrell told The Daily Mail that "Sandringham is Downton Abbey on speed." In Andrew Morton's 1992 tell-all book, Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words, friends claim that Christmastime at Sandringham had been difficult for Diana as far back as 1982, Prince William's first Christmas. Supposedly, she was already suspicious of Charles' relationship with Camilla and it drove her to attempt suicide while at Sandringham. In her 1995 tell-all interview with the BBC, Diana admitted to her own extramarital affairs and revealed that she had been aware of Charles' affair with Camilla for years. "There were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded," she famously said.

Prince Charles and Princess Diana with children Prince William and Prince Harry in their 1991 Royal Christmas Card. Compared to previous years' cards, the children look uneasy and their parents' smiles look forced.

It also didn't help that Christmas at Sandringham Estate was a drawn-out ordeal planned five months in advance and attended by several of the royal families. Diana wasn't the only royal who found the rigid Christmas routines to be a bit too much. She skipped the 1992 Christmas at Sandringham but would attend several more, knowing that Princes William and Harry enjoyed their time there. She would arrive on Christmas Eve, attend church service with the Royal Family on Christmas morning, and leave prior to lunch. According to a 1994 article in The Daily Mail, Diana reportedly told friends that holidays with the Royal Family had become "frosty." A friend said that her being there made everyone "so tense and uneasy. She'd join them for the sake of the boys, but it wasn't really working."

Christmas at Sandringham House was a tense affair for Princess Diana (left). Like in the movie, there was little privacy in the house, in part due to so many royals staying there at once.

Is Princess Diana's royal dresser, Maggie, based on a real person?

It doesn't appear that Sally Hawkins' character in the movie, Maggie, is directly based on an actual royal dresser who Princess Diana confided in at the time. In conducting our Spencer fact-check, it seems that Maggie was at least to some degree inspired by Diana's real-life dresser and loyal friend Fay Appleby, who spent six years traveling the world with the princess. Diana stood by Fay through the dresser's battle with cancer, which claimed her life in 2002.

Did Princess Diana prefer talking to the staff instead of the other royals?

Yes. It is fairly well-known that Diana liked to talk to the royal staff. Former royal chef Darren McGrady, who is portrayed by Sean Harris in the Spencer movie, said that Diana took an interest in talking with the 200 staff members who worked the royal Christmas. "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," said McGrady.

Princess Diana was involved with Andrew Morton's book, which is the closest there is to a Diana autobiography.

Did Princess Diana suffer from bulimia?

Yes. Princess Diana's bulimia is a reoccurring theme in Spencer, and the true story confirms that the real Diana indeed struggled with the eating disorder. Episode 3 of season 4 of Netflix's The Crown also focuses on Diana's bulimia, and we see Emma Corrin's Princess Diana binging and then purging in the bathroom. While the Netflix series is known for sensationalizing real-life events, its portrayal of Diana's eating disorder seems historically accurate.

The Princess herself revealed eye-opening details about her struggle with bulimia in Andrew Morton's 1992 biography Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words, which was written with her collaboration and approval. In confessional tapes that she provided the author, she is recorded saying, "The bulimia started the week after we got engaged and would take nearly a decade to overcome. My husband put his hand on my waistline and said: 'Oh, a bit chubby here, aren't we?' and that triggered off something in me—and the Camilla thing." Elizabeth Emanuel, the designer who created Princess Diana's wedding gown, commented that at the beginning of dress fittings, Diana's waist measured 26 to 27 inches. It had shrunk down to 23 inches by July 1981, the month of her wedding.

As Diana had implied, her bulimia was largely the result of her unhappy marriage. Charles was often more attentive to Camilla Parker Bowles, which put an ever-present stress on their marriage from the very beginning.

Princess Diana (left) on her wedding day, July 29, 1981, and Kristen Stewart (right) in the Spencer movie.

Did Princess Diana self-harm?

Yes, but the movie's version depicting Diana ravaging her arm with wire cutters is over-the-top Hollywood embellishment. In secret tapes recorded with biographer Andrew Morton, Diana apparently revealed that she cut herself while staying at Balmoral Castle. The movie takes that revelation to another level that seems to go far beyond the Princess Diana true story.

Did Princess Diana ever demand that her sons stop hunting?

While the details of this particular scene in the movie are mostly fictional, it was rather well-known that Princess Diana was not a fan of the fact that Prince William and Prince Harry hunted, a royal tradition that was a sort of right of passage for them. Diana did not want them photographed hunting. According to royal biographer Ingrid Seward, Diana told William and Harry, "Remember, there's always someone in a high-rise flat who doesn't want to see you shoot Bambi" (Daily Mail). The Royal Family's traditional Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) shoot on Queen Elizabeth's Sandringham Estate that's portrayed in the movie is a very real tradition that William and Harry have participated in most years.

On an interesting side note, Prince William's wife, Kate Middleton (the Duchess of Cambridge), enjoys hunting and has taken part in grouse and pheasant shoots for several years. She reportedly owns a 20-gauge shotgun (Daily Mail).

Princess Diana (left) in the 1980s and Kristen Stewart (right) as Diana in the Spencer movie.

Did Princess Diana view Anne Boleyn as a kind of kindred spirit?

No. Comparisons between Princess Diana and Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, have been made over the years, but we found no evidence that Diana recognized the similarities or feared that she could suffer the same fate. Interestingly, while researching how true is Spencer, we learned that Diana is a distant relative of Boleyn (she is Boleyn's 13th great-grandniece). In a fictional scene in the movie, she finds a biography of Boleyn and starts to feel a connection.

After King Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn, they had a daughter (the future Queen Elizabeth I). Anne then suffered three miscarriages and was unable to give Henry the son he desired. Henry started to court Jane Seymour but could not marry her unless he had a valid reason to terminate his marriage to Anne. King Henry VIII and Queen Anne had been married for approximately three-and-a-half years by that point. It was then that Henry had Anne investigated for high treason (plotting to kill the King). She was taken to the Tower of London and charged with treason, adultery and incest. Following a trial, Anne was convicted and beheaded four days later on May 19, 1536. King Henry VIII married Jane Seymour before the month's end on May 30, 1536. Today, historians largely believe that the charges against Anne were bogus.

Though Princess Diana (left) is indeed a distant relative of Anne Boleyn, there is no evidence that she became obsessed with the executed Queen like in the movie.

As far as Princess Diana's similarities to Anne Boleyn, both Diana and Anne were the younger sister of someone their future husbands were involved with. Prince Charles had originally dated Diana's older sister Lady Sarah Spencer. King Henry had originally been in a relationship (affair) with Anne's older sister Mary. Both Diana and Anne's marriages to their royal husbands turned sour and their husbands each ended up wanting another woman. Prince Charles' longed for Camilla Parker Bowles, who he was having an affair with and would end up marrying seven-and-a-half years after Diana's death. King Henry VIII was courting Jane Seymour, who he would marry immediately after Anne's death. For those who believe the conspiracy theory that the Royal Family had something to do with Diana's death, then perhaps you could find similarity to Anne there as well and the movie certainly tries to imply that connection.

Did Princess Diana disobey orders and try to go visit her childhood home, Park House?

No. In the Spencer movie, Princess Diana tries to go back to her childhood home, Park House, which is located on the Queen's Sandringham Estate. She desperately climbs fences in an attempt to get to the boarded-up house, which appears to have long since been abandoned. The house in the movie has a moat, which didn't exist around the real-life house. After Diana returns from her torchlit break-in, Prince Charles informs her that Major Alistair Gregory's men had been watching her. This fictional component of the film is meant to symbolize Diana's desire to escape the confines of the Royal Family and her deteriorated marriage in an attempt to find her true self again. Much of the movie unfolds this way, portraying scenes of fiction that symbolize the agonizing reality of what she must have been going through at the time.

Princess Diana lived at Park House on the Queen's Sandringham Estate until she was 14. Photo Credit: Sandringham Estate

Diana Frances Spencer was born at Park House on July 1, 1961. Her family rented the property and lived there until 1974 when Diana was 14. She is noted as having a happy early childhood at Park House. In 1983, Queen Elizabeth donated Park House to the Leonard Cheshire disability charity. Park House was transformed into an accessible country hotel for people with disabilities. Unlike what's seen in the movie, it was not sitting abandoned and in ruin in 1991. As for Diana's family, they relocated to Althorp House when Diana's father, John Spencer, came into his title.

Did Princess Diana fear she would be killed?

In the Spencer movie, Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) remarks, "Will they kill me, do you think?" referring to the Royal Family knocking her off if she leaves Prince Charles. While there's no evidence that she made a similar remark at Christmastime in 1991, she reportedly did once make the comment, "One day I'm going to go up in a helicopter, and it'll just blow up. The MI6 will do away with me." -ABC News