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Spencer True Story: What Really Happened With Diana & Charles In 1991

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Spencer.

Spencer paints a grim picture of Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ married life — here’s what really happened with the royal couple in 1991. Over the course of their marriage, a lot of information has come out about the royals and the shaky state of their relationship. The 1990s were an especially tumultuous time period for Diana and Charles because they could no longer hide behind the façade that everything was as fairytale-like as the public and media might have assumed at the start of their marriage. Spencer hones in on some of these harsh truths.

Directed by Pablo Larraín from a screenplay by Steven Knight, Spencer follows Diana, Princess of Wales, over the course of three days at the queen’s Sandringham Estate during Christmas 1991. By this point, Diana and Charles’ relationship was already fraught and Spencer includes the prince’s affair with Camilla as a crucial conflict between the two. It’s something which also furthers Diana’s mental state throughout the film.

Related: Spencer Ending Explained (& What Happens After The Film)

While Spencer is a “fable from a true tragedy,” and not a factual playbook for the events in Diana’s life at the time, the film does have grains of truth that are rooted into the story. Charles doesn’t appear very often in the film, but the seeds of their estrangement are there. Three days isn’t enough to cover the entire story, so here is the true story of what happened with Diana and Charles in 1991.

In Spencer, Princess Diana and Prince Charles share one scene together. It’s here that she brings up his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles and points out that the pearl necklace he bought her was the same he bestowed upon his mistress. Whether or not this conversation was had in real life remains vague, but there is indeed a lot of tension between the pair due to Princess Diana being knowledgeable of Charles’ affair with Camilla, an affair she allegedly had known about for years and caused her great turmoil.

According to Prince Charles, he rekindled his romance with Camilla in 1986, although there are claims that the prince maintained an emotional affair with Camilla in the early months and years of his marriage to Diana. Unlike Diana, Charles doesn’t seem as ruffled because he was fully aware of the pressures and scrutiny he and his family were under in terms of the press. He was used to putting on a show while Diana was not; knowing that Charles had been seeing Camilla for years affected her greatly and the princess reportedly stated that her bulimia started shortly after she and Charles got engaged. It was something she implied was exacerbated by the affair and their overall unhappy marriage.

Christmas at Sandringham in 1991 was the last time Princess Diana and Prince Charles would appear together as a married couple around the holidays. While the royal couple made a few more public appearances together in 1992, Nearly a year later, they officially separated and would remain that way until their divorce in 1996. Spencer’s focus on this tumultuous time showcases how Diana is at the end of her hope, growing more and more frustrated by the confines of royal tradition and her husband’s affair.

Related: Spencer Movie Cast & Real Life Character Guide

At the end of the film, Larraín hones in on Charles’ face as he looks knowingly at his mother, Queen Elizabeth II. It implies he, like Diana, had reached the end of what he could also tolerate. In reality, this was indeed the last full year the royal couple was officially husband and wife, so Spencer’s setting is apt. After years of pretending, Diana and Charles had had enough. While 1991 was the last straw, hints of the couple’s unhappiness began cropping up long before then. In 1989, when Princess Diana visited children affected by HIV/AIDS, the royal made headlines for making the trip alone without Prince Charles by her side.

In Spencer, Diana is torn up after realizing the pearl necklace Charles gave her for Christmas is the same set he bestowed upon his mistress Camilla. The film turns the situation into a bit of a horror show when, distraught over the fact that Charles didn’t care enough to give her a different gift, Diana snatches the pearls off of her neck and eats them with her pea soup. In reality, there’s nothing to back up Charles’ clear oversight in gift-giving. That said, the Prince of Wales did buy jewelry for Camilla (and she does have a pearl necklace he gave her years later). Days before their wedding in 1981, Princess Diana found a bracelet engraved with Camilla and Charles’ nicknames for each other. The pearl necklace was likely meant to represent this and the clear divide between the royal couple.

Unbeknownst to many, Princess Diana was interviewed throughout 1991. These recorded interviews (that were allegedly smuggled out of the palace) were then used as the basis for Diana: Her True Story, the 1992 bombshell book by Andrew Morton. The interviews revealed Prince Charles and Camilla's affair — an affair Diana reportedly confronted Camilla over — and so much more about the state of their marriage and Diana’s feelings about it, Charles himself, and her mental state and health. The book wouldn't be released until 1992, but it seemed clear (based on the fact that Diana actively participated in the interviews) that she wanted her story to be made known. She also wanted it to be done without the knowledge of Charles or the royal institution, which was typically secretive about the inner workings of the royals.

Of course, Prince Charles wasn’t the only one who was seeing someone else at the time Spencer is set. Diana herself was also having an extramarital affair. Although Spencer doesn’t mention the name of the man Charles references in their confrontation, it's well-known that the princess is having an affair with James Hewitt, the royal family’s riding instructor and a former major in the British Army, around the time the film is set. Princess Diana reveals as much in a famous 1995 interview with BBC’s Martin Bashir, in which she not only confirmed the affair, but expressed disappointment in its outcome. By 1991, Princess Diana and Hewitt had been seeing each other for five years following his initial employment by the royal family in 1986. This is around the same time Charles reportedly rekindled his romance with Camilla, although Diana was always aware of their relationship and was quite uncomfortable with it. Hewitt would later use his affair with Princess Diana for media attention.

Next: Kristen Stewart's Diana Movie Can Outdo The Crown's Princess Story

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