By Joanna Langfield

This nightmarish look at a Christmas with the Royals is a heartbreaker, thanks to some very savvy storytelling, as well as Kristin Stewart’s stunner of a performance.

Pablo Larrain’s psychological drama is a fable, but it is certainly no fairy tale. We get to spend a few days with the British Royal Family, as Diana is about to officially leave Prince Charles. The drafty Sandringham House estate may be cold, the people in it are colder. We watch, helpless and with horror, as the vulnerable young mother tries to survive in a situation where she, along with some perhaps more cooperative others, is looked at as currency. Her needs, if she is even allowed to have them, separate her from the flock. They are gossiped about and looked down upon. Even changing up the order of her prescribed wardrobe is taken as an act of punishable defiance. And Diana, already deep into a serious bout of bulimia, literally cannot take what she is expected to digest.

Literalists might quarrel with the liberties that may or may not have been taken here. But Larrain, screenwriter Steven Knight and Cinematographer Claire Mathon have mounted Diana’s story as a horror movie, albeit quite a classy one. Haunted and very much alone, Diana knows she is in a place where she doesn’t fit in, doesn’t belong. But how can she escape, especially when the stakes, both for country and her children, are so high?

While Diana’s story could be applied to so many others, stuck in loveless marriages, torn between obligation and freedom, this is still very much Diana’s story. And so Stewart, one of the most gifted actors of her generation, must bring not just the emotional arc, but also the very well known mannerisms and style to her work here. And she nails it, brimming with an anger and intelligence as well as the charm we’ve seen so often in the telling of Diana’s story before.

But, as wrenching as it is to watch the suffering, we also see the warm love mother and sons have for one another. My heart hurt for William, a boy charged with “handling” his fractured mother. And the film’s last scenes, of some happiness and freedom, left me in tears. Which is, I suppose, just as much a part of Diana’s story and her legacy.