Spencer reaches levels of haunting piquancy and has a performance from Kristen Stewart the encompasses mind, body, and soul.
This review of the film Spencer does not contain spoilers.
Spencer, Pablo Larraín’s fever dream of a biography, is not a “true story” but a fable based on the holiday weekend of cession from the Royal Family. Diana (a transcendent Kristen Stewart), Princess of Wales, has had enough. Her marriage to Prince Charles (Love Wedding Repeat‘s Jack Farthing) is loveless. She is aware of her husband’s other woman. Her family is cold and has cut her off from any emotional connection. All the joy and family harmony during the festivities stop as she enters the room.
She feels controlled, manipulated, and isolated all at the same time. The media rumors have swirled over the past few months of the crumbling of her marriage. Her only solace is her boys (played by Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry), the only one she can confide in, her Royal Dresser, Maggie (the wonderful Sally Hawkins), and a childhood friend, Darren (Sean Harris), the head chef of the Sandringham House.
Others are protective of the Royal Family and how they present themselves. Major Alistar Gregory critiques her every move when she is the new face and anticipated hero of feminism’s third wave. The staff tells her how to dress and to keep the shades drawn. She can’t leave the royal estates unless escorted, and it has to be documented. Many may point out its security for the face of the United Kingdom.
Others may view it as a public persona that is part of her life she now should accept. Though, if you add it all up, the restrictions, the emotional manipulation, Larraín’s film creates a haunting portrait that depicts what is essentially a hostage situation. A life that appears appealing to her protection and best interests, but where she can’t leave and has no other place to go. If you disagree, take a look at the final act where she is trying to remove her kids from a pheasant hunt, hands raised, and tell me I’m wrong.
Larraín is a master at finding the psychological space that tremors with haunting piquancy. He accomplished this because it’s an essential fictionized selection of an emotional weekend before she decided to separate herself from the Royal family. That makes it a character study and delicate examination of mental health that’s affected by isolation, even fame, and individuality. He creates such an atmospheric tone that creates an eerie and frightening style that’s palpable. His film is also heavy in symbolism, including a dead pheasant laying breathless at the side of a road.
That brings us to the performance of Kristen Stewart. Let me be the millionth person to say it — she is remarkable. Stewart reaches greatness. It’s a wholly immersed performance that’s just camouflaged in make-up, hair styling, and costume design. She disappears into a character that was beloved and hated, especially by the old guard. Stewart’s turn completely encompasses mind, body, and soul.
Spencer would refer to the Princess’s maiden name if anyone were wondering. I bet many didn’t know that, which makes Larraín’s film even more effective. Why? Because it shows how she was absorbed into something that was void of any originality or distinctness. His examination of fame here is fascinating, being forced to live her life behind segregated Royal closed doors. Still, there was an added layer of quarantine to her room or away from her new family.
Spencer is an examination of this. David Sedaris said that “They’re hungry for something they know nothing about, but we, we know all too well that the price of fame is the loss of privacy.” The exception here is that the Princess Diana already had some notion of fame, but not at that level. It comes with the territory. She just wanted life, fame, and her sanity at a price she was comfortable with.
In other words, set at her terms.
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