Movies

Pablo Larraín On Why A Mike + The Mechanics Song Was Essential To ‘Spencer’

Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is a meditation on the life of Princess Diana (played by Kristen Stewart) over the course of a few days in 1991 around the holidays. It is not a happy time for Diana, but the film does provide one true moment of joy as Diana and her two sons, William and Harry, are driving into town, belting out Mike + the Mechanics’s “All I Need is a Miracle.” It’s a wondrous scene, and a strangely startling song choice. And, yes, according to Larraín, the decision of what song to play in that moment was not taken lightly, narrowing it down from over 100 choices.

It’s also difficult to watch Spencer and not think of current events, namely Diana’s son Harry leaving the royal family. I asked Larraín about this, too, and he seems to agree that, yes, we are seeing some of what he depicted play out, but is also smart enough to not comment directly. Also, Larraín is no stranger to films about powerful women and tragic circumstances, having also directed the phenomenal Jackie. Is it a coincidence he’s made a movie about both Princess Diana and Jackie Kennedy? Larraín makes it pretty clear that it is not.

I did not expect to hear a Mike + the Mechanics song during this movie at any point. So why do we hear “All I Need is a Miracle” at such a crucial point?

Well, I guess it’s because of the context. That song plays at a moment where the movie unleashed the character, or the characters unleashed herself. And it was a long process. I had a very long list, a playlist, that had 100, or even more, tracks.

Wow.

Down to 50. And then, of course, there’s a lot of music that we know that she heard. I don’t know if you’ve seen, but they exhibit this suitcase with cassettes. So you can read what other music that she was listening that she liked. And, also, she had many friends that are famous musicians. So it was a whole thing, to choose that song, because it’s a song that would come out of her car…

It has to be something actually getting airplay?

It’s a tape, it’s a tape. It says, “Track one,” whatever. And then, at the same time, it needed to elevate and change the tone of the movie that we had until there.

It does.

In a way that feels organic and uplifting without, I don’t know, being cheesy. Something that feels natural and pure. It was a hard call. It was a tough decision. I played them – meaning them: Kristen and both kids – different tracks, up until I played that song. And the kids were super excited and they were singing it. So I was like, “This is it.” And when we were shooting it, they were asking me – the kids, especially Freddie, who plays Harry – he asked me, who’s the miracle? why are we singing this? And I said, “It’s your mother. And it’s right here.” And that’s how it made a lot of sense for us.

Also it hits that sweet spot of being a popular song, but it’s not overused in movies today.

Yeah! You’re completely right. Part of the equation to choose a song like that is to find a song that has not been significantly used in another movie, but also a song that you think you know, so it clicks certain things in your memory. But it’s not all over the place, you know? And also what I really like is is the use of keyboards. And those guys are coming from Genesis…

Mike Rutherford, yeah.

So, they went to the right school. Incredible.

I’m curious what you thought over the past few months with Harry and Meghan leaving the royal family and doing their interview. There are similar themes to what this movie is saying. And a lot of people are probably going to think about that while watching this movie.

Oh, yeah. I understand. But I’m just a filmmaker, and I don’t think…

I’m not asking what you think about them. I’m wondering how you think it affects how viewers might look at your movie.

I don’t know. It’s a good question. It’s a very good question. I understand it. And we could know that soon, as soon as the movie opens. But what I feel is that we are portraying them, I think, for the first time on a movie, or even in television. And I do respect them a lot, and I think they had a lot of difficulties. And this is a maybe a painful, painful part of their life, because of their mom and their loss and the tragedy. So I will say that I wouldn’t want to throw any other problem to them or whatever, or the reality. And if one of them is doing something that you might think, “Well, it’s a very interesting thing to say.” I just don’t feel good talking about it in public. It’s not who I am, my friend.

I’m guessing you are getting a lot of questions about one of your previous films, Jackie. It is interesting you’ve done two movies on these extremely famous, powerful women who went through tragedy. Is that just coincidence? Or is there something that draws you to that?

Well, I think when you make a movie and spend three years on each of them, I don’t think coincidence is the right word.

Well, sometimes when you talk to filmmakers about this kind of stuff they get adamant one thing has nothing to do with the other, but I don’t know if there is or not.

Yeah, I’m fascinated by the roles they had in the second half of 20th century, I think. They were very similar in many things, and very different in others. And they were both women linked to very powerful families. They were married to powerful men. They were in a very privileged context for most of their life. And they were people who had a very complicated relationship with media, even though they were both able to find their own voice in that sort of complicated context. And I think that’s a very hard thing to do and very interesting. But at the same time, they’re very different movies, I think.

Oh, they 100 percent are…

Jackie is a movie about memory and grief and maybe legacy. And I think Spencer is about motherhood and identity. So they play together well, but they are not sisters. They’re cousins if possible. Right?

I see.

And they’re related, but not really. And something that I think is fascinating is how they actually shaped contemporary fashion. Not in the last 20 years, but up until the very end of the last century, they were both icons. And it’s not just this superficial elements of fashion. I think they also built the culture on a number of things that is related to a more artistic perspective, because they were making choices based on color, texture, fabrics. And they were wearing stuff that back then were, most of the time, very often against the rules.

And they were inventing the persona throughout fashion in a way that I think is fascinating. So from from the pink dress that Jackie wore in Dallas that day, to the wedding dress that Diana got married with, to the red coat, she wore in church… you name it. Nowadays, we’re used to those images. Back then when they were wearing those things each day of their life, it felt really really instructive and very original. I don’t know. Some people didn’t like it. And they were accused of doing whatever weird things, the way they were dressing, but they were building their identity throughout a very beautiful structure. And they knew how to do it. So, yeah, it’s fascinating.

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