But the movie (out Nov. 5) has its brighter moments — many of which reflect the close relationship between the late royal and her sons, William and Harry.
In one scene, hand-in-hand with Diana, the boys race across a field on their grandmother’s estate. Earlier, Diana snuggles Harry and strokes his hair during a break from some of the less demonstrative members of the family.
These scenarios paint an intimate portrait of a devoted mom whose real-life struggles were eased by her love for the two young princes — the so-called “heir and spare” she wanted to raise on her own terms.
As the blue blood declared in her explosive BBC interview in 1995: “I will fight for my children on any level so they can reach their potential as human beings, and in their public duties.”
Diana’s hands-on approach to royal parenting was a departure from the norm, occasionally raising eyebrows of the older generation with differing philosophies about child-rearing. She employed nannies, but there was never a small army of staff working all hours of the day. It was also significant that the one-time future queen stuck to her guns and routinely found a way to include the boys when official commitments meant traveling abroad.
Tragically, though, she never got to see William and Harry become the men they are today. On Aug. 31, 1997, Diana was killed in a high-speed Paris car crash that shocked the world.
Her commitment to motherhood was one of the things that impressed Stewart the most as she researched her character ahead of filming. Promoting “Spencer” at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, the actress said: “It was the only thing in her life that felt sure.”
Stewart added: “Her strength, power and feral, unstoppable force of nature really came out when she was with her kids, because she wasn’t very good at protecting herself, but she was very good at protecting them.”
To this end, Diana went to great lengths to reassure Harry, the more sensitive of the brothers, when they faced crowds of onlookers. She angrily confronted paparazzi who were too pushy or came too close on their private trips. For example, in 1991, a video was taken of the mama bear dressing down a group of over-zealous photographers during a vacation in the Austrian ski resort of Lech.
Her attachment to her boys defined her. In 1985, asked about the bond on national TV, she replied: “I live for my sons. I would be lost without them.”
Veteran royal watcher Arthur Edwards believes the connection stemmed from Diana’s long-held affinity for children.
“When she was on a tour, she’d break the mold by crouching down to talk to kids at their level,” Edwards told The Post of the former nursery school assistant. “She knew how to relate to them.”
The photographer, who has covered the royals for Britain’s Sun newspaper over four decades, said William and Harry — just 15 and 12 when their mother died at the age of 36 — relished the time they had together. While they adored their dad (despite Prince Harry’s recent criticism of his upbringing by Prince Charles), Diana brought a lot of fun to the table.
The up and at ’em mom was keen to ensure her boys enjoyed as normal a childhood as possible. In 1993, she accompanied them to an English theme park where they waited on line like everyone else and got soaked on a water slide. Courtiers at Buckingham Palace were apparently taken by surprise when photos appeared of them looking rather disheveled as they mixed with the hoi polloi.
According to Edwards, Diana would climb horse-chestnut trees on the grounds of their home to collect conkers for her sons. And, whenever they were hurt or scared, the first person they’d come to for comfort was her, not the nanny.
“Every time she was with them, she would kiss and hug them,” said the lensman, author of the 1996 book: “I’ll Tell The Jokes, Arthur: Diana, the Royal Family & Me.” As Diana once remarked in a speech: “Hugs can do great amounts of good, especially for children.”
In a poignant moment during Prince Harry’s interview for the 2017 TV documentary: “Diana, Our Mother: Her Life and Legacy,” the now 37-year-old said: “I can still feel the hugs that she used to give us.
“I miss that feeling. I miss having that mother to give you those hugs and that compassion that everyone needs.”
Edwards was on assignment when he witnessed the most famous embrace between Diana and her boys. It happened in 1991 aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia, after William and Harry, then 9 and 7, were flown in to join their parents on a tour of Canada.
“Diana ran, arms outstretched, towards the kids,” he recalled. “The picture tells you everything you need to know about her great love for them.”
It’s somewhat fitting that the happiest scene in “Spencer” — which is set in December 1991 — sees the princess taking William and Harry on an exhilarating drive in her convertible sports car.
The trio enjoys a temporary respite from the stuffy traditions associated with their royal privilege. As she revels in the company of her sons, the experience transforms Diana into the carefree person she once was. The sequence also features an unscheduled stop at a fast food joint — something the down-to-earth mom would occasionally treat them to in real life.
As Edwards revealed: “Charles introduced them to the opera and Shakespeare — but Diana took them to the pictures [cinema] and McDonald’s.”
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