Director Pablo Larrain, who delved into the emotional discontent of Jacqueline Kennedy following the assassination of her husband in Jackie (2016), has tackled another famous icon’s turmoil triggered by powerful outside forces, in this case, the British monarchy. Natch we’re talking about Princess Diana, played here by Kristen Stewart.

Stewart gamely steps into big shoes, but overall, her portrait of the adored princess comes off as loaded and a bit one-note. Di, on the eve of her separation from Prince Charles and royal life, is imprisoned and harassed by the paparazzi and monarchy and at a...

Director Pablo Larrain, who delved into the emotional discontent of Jacqueline Kennedy following the assassination of her husband in Jackie (2016), has tackled another famous icon’s turmoil triggered by powerful outside forces, in this case, the British monarchy. Natch we’re talking about Princess Diana, played here by Kristen Stewart.

Stewart gamely steps into big shoes, but overall, her portrait of the adored princess comes off as loaded and a bit one-note. Di, on the eve of her separation from Prince Charles and royal life, is imprisoned and harassed by the paparazzi and monarchy and at a breaking point.

Like Jackie, the setting and time of Spencer is micro-focused. It’s Christmas Eve 1991 as Lady Di arrives late to the Queen’s Sandringham Estate. Traveling solo and without security, she gets lost in the countryside (an odd occurrence as she grew up nearby) and then there’s a dally with a scarecrow.

Once on the grounds there’s nothing but tension as the overseer of security and protocols, Major Gregory (Timothy Spall), has his eye trained on everything she does. It’s a barbed twist when he insists, as tradition does of all spending Christmas weekend at the Queen’s grand estate, that Di be weighed, so that upon her exit, her weight gain (three pounds for her frame) can register her degree of culinary enjoyment. Di was a known bulimic and there are plenty of head-in-the-toilet vomiting scenes as well as a quiet dressing down by Charles (a stiff-lipped Jack Farthing) who asks her at the dinner table to show some respect to the hens and bees and such who made her meal by not upchucking it.

There’s not a lot of screen time between Diana and Charles, nor with the Queen (Stella Gonet) for that matter. Mostly we get Diana forlorn, trapped and under scrutiny with Gregory, omnipresent and imposing, to remind her of her duties and time required to prepare. These are weighty asks, to be sure, but as the film has it, Di’s reaction is often that of a bratty child or someone on the cusp of nervous breakdown. The whole internalization of said moods gets teased and embossed by Johnny Greenwood’s frenetic jazz score, especially the scenes of Diana stomping or staggering through the halls of Sandringham. The overpowering sense of dread is right out of Kubrick’s The Shining.

Just how historically accurate Spencer is, is debatable. The film is billed as “A Fable From a True Tragedy.” To that end, the ghoulishly lurking Spall character is fictitious as are the roles of Darren (Sean Harris is so good playing Steve McQueen in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood and is on mark here as well), the head chef and Di’s confidant, and devoted personal dresser Maggie (The Shape of Water’s Sally Hawkins). It’s intriguing too as those are the only few Di ever shares any personal thoughts with, though there are some genuinely touching moments with her two young sons William (Jack Nielen) and Harry (Freddie Spry).

The charges of infidelity against Charles makes it squarely onto the screen, most notably when Diana becomes outraged by having to wear the same pearl necklace Charles also gifted to Camilla Parker Bowles. And then at church on Christmas morning, we catch a brief few glimmers of Camilla (Emma Darwall-Smith) looming in the background. Yet as chronicled in season four of The Crown, Diana’s own indiscretions are never really raised. We also never catch much of the humanitarian Di who worked ceaselessly to help clear land minds in war-torn developing countries.

To further deepen the immersion into unsettled distress, Larrain and screenwriter Steven Knight (Locke and Peaky Blinders) play some with the viewer’s sensibilities. At one dinner sitting, Diana rips the pearls from her neck. They fall into her pea soup, then dourly, painfully, she gulps each one down. It takes a moment to realize it’s a fantasy act-out, and later, Di begins to see Anne Boleyn (Amy Manson), the wife whom Henry VIII accused of adultery and beheaded so he could marry someone else, roaming the halls of Sandringham.

Metaphors leveraging a pheasant — a pretty bird only good for the shooting — and a wild horse needing its freedom get mixed into the emotional miasma as well. Spencer turns Diana’s ordeal into something of a Gothic horror chamber with the controlling monarchy and tabloid public holding the keys to the golden cage. Diana’s cast as a clear outsider here, and given the recent divorce from the royal family by Harry and Meghan over allegations of racism and bloodline-ensured entitlement, “Spencer” feels perfectly timed as it further plucks that cord.