spencer – marketing recap

How NEON has sold a fantasy character drama set in the world of royalty

Spencer movie poster
Spencer poster

There’s been no shortage of recent projects about not only the British Royal Family as a whole but the late Diana Spencer specifically. The most recent season of “The Crown” on Netflix covered the period including Diana’s tumultuous and abusive courtship by and marriage to Prince Charles, ending with them becoming estranged. Also on Netflix is Diana: The Musical, which covers the same basic time frame but also her untimely demise in 1997.

Into that mix comes Spencer from director Pablo Larraín and writer Steven Knight. Kristen Stewart stars as Diana in a story that, while largely imagined, is based on actual events and set during a 1991 holiday retreat by the Royal Family at a time when the marriage between Diana and Charles was largely a fiction being maintained for the sake of appearances.

Let’s take a look at how it’s been sold.

announcements and casting

The project was announced with Stewart in the starring role in mid-June of 2020. NEON acquired distribution rights shortly after that announcement.

In an interview that was part of her promotion of Happiest Season, Stewart admitted that watching the latest season of Netflix’s “The Crown” made up part of her research into Diana.

A first look at Stewart in character, accompanied by a few comments from the producers and others, came out in January.

In January of this year news came that Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood had signed on to score the film.

the royal marketing campaign

The campaign really kicked off in August with the release of the first trailer (2.4m YouTube views). It’s short but sets the tone by mixing scenes of Royal settings and routines with shots that hint at Diana not quite fitting into that environment.

At the same the first poster was released, taking the bold step of not showing the face of the star. Instead all we see is Diana from the back as she is doubled over, seemingly crying into her massive and expensive-looking white gown. That image is very much designed to indicate what the movie will be like even more than the trailer did.

An interview with Larraín has the director explaining just how much he played around with the real story of what happened, changing them to give Diana more agency and ultimately to give her a better ending on her own terms. Similar ground was covered by screenwriter Steven Knight, who also addressed this not being the only Diana-related project to be released recently.

The movie screened during festival season at the Venice Film Festival, which hosted the world premiere, as well as Telluride and Toronto festivals, each time earning positive reviews as a whole and especially for Stewart’s performance.

While on the festival circuit there were multiple interviews with Stewart where she talked about the physicality of the role, how she empathized with Diana’s emotional openness and earnest nature, what it was like to play (another) real life figure and lots more.

An EW cover story came out around this time with Stewart and Larraín both talking about working together and the responsibility of telling the story of such a beloved figure. Stewart also praised Emma Corrin’s performance in “The Crown” and revealed she used the same dialect coach Corrin did.

Late September brought the release of the final trailer (12m YouTube views). It’s a very unhappy Diana being shown here, one that is desperate for some sort of happiness that’s always denied by the family she’s married into, including the unloving husband who just wants her to perform her duties. It engages in a little of the inevitable foreshadowing of her death, but mostly it’s focused on how Diana manages to get from one moment to the next in life and what toll that struggle takes on her wellbeing.

A series of character posters showing Diana, Charles and others were released at this time.

Stewart and others from the cast attended a screening of the film at the London Film Festival in early October. The movie was then added to the lineup of the Austin Film Festival and Miami Film Festival GEMS.

Short spots and promos started coming out at this point, most of them showing Diana in some sort of conflict with Charles or another member of the Royal Family who doesn’t approve of her.

Costume designer Jacqueline Durran was interviewed about capturing the right look for the period, including sourcing vintage materials and the other tricks she pulled off to recreate royal designs.

The movie was then scheduled to open this year’s Contender’s Film Series at New York’s MoMA.

The red carpet premiere was held in late October with Stewart talking about making the movie in general as well as the similarities she sees between herself and Diana, particularly around how many cameras are constantly following her around and more about how “The Crown” helped prime the pump for this movie.

An interview with Larraín had the director talking about the story, Stewart’s performance and more.

The theatrical poster came out at the end of October showing Diana, clad in a black veil, looking longingly out a window. It’s meant to convey the kind of desperate daydreaming of another life that forms the crux of the drama in the story and does that effectively.

Stewart talked about the movie and her reaction to being asked to star in it when she appeared on “The Tonight Show” recently.

Fandango MovieClips debuted an exclusive clip of Diana getting some unwelcome advice from Charles about how to behave in public.

Stewart was awarded the Spotlight Award for her performance in this film by the Palm Springs International Film Awards.

overall

It’s very interesting that, given the glut of Diana-related projects vying for public attention recently, the decision was made at some point not to try and compete against them but to position this movie as additive to what’s already come out. That seems to be the reason why Stewart and others have been so open about watching “The Crown” and even using similar resources to help get the character of Diana right.

Aside from that, the focus from the outset has been on Stewart and her performance in the title role. That performance has been hailed and praised by just about every critic who’s seen the film and NEON has been sure to amplify that praise at every opportunity. As such, it forms the backbone of the campaign.