Written by: Steven Knight
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, Sally Hawkins
Getting inside the head of someone so famous without knowing them leaves much to conjecture when trying to tell their story. Whether it be showing their triumphs or the pain they endure with Princess Diana being one who had everything play out on the public stage. Instead of going for factual accuracy, Spencer establishes itself as a fable of what could have occurred and through a tremendous leading performance, it becomes an intoxicating and dizzying experience.
For the Christmas holiday, Diana (Kristen Stewart) must report once again to the Queen’s countryside manor for the tradition of celebration. While completely unhappy to be there, she must contend with the coldness of her relationship with Charles (Jack Farthing) and her own personal issues without losing sight of the love she has for her sons.
Following the impeccable work done in Jackie, having Pablo Larraín take on another royal-like figure provided nothing but promise. Another opportunity to have a leading lady shine and my goodness did he deliver once again. Shrouded with even more mystery and a sense of suffocation, this feature absolutely delivers on its promises of being the sister film to the 2016 feature starring Natalie Portman.
While not having as much knowledge of the royal family and Princess Diana as compared to the general public, getting an inside look at how she may have felt during this particular era of her marriage proved to be incredibly enlightening. A time where Diana received speculation about having affairs when her very own husband actually did the deeds. The way she was prodded, talked down to, and made to feel insignificant all gets communicated here and the rest of the feature becomes the experience of her reacting to it all. It thus makes sense why Pablo Larraín would focus the camera so much on Stewart’s face, as it becomes much more about her reaction to what occurs than the actions themselves. From the weighing in to prove one has eaten enough at this traditional gathering and all of the other strangleholds this specific event brought her, as the audience, we’re with Diana the entire way.
The technical merit on display in this feature is absolutely outstanding with Claire Mathon absolutely nailing the cinematography. Certain shots and lighting nearly took my breath away in its presentation and proves once again with this, Atlantics and Portrait of a Lady on Fire that she’s undoubtedly one of the best cinematographers in the game right now. From the overall hazy look to the gorgeous night shots, she delivers such a treat, which pairs well with the scrumptious costume design and food. Wonderful gowns all around but the food in this feature, with the walk-in fridge scene, in particular, falls in the food porn category. It flows right along with the meticulousness of what Diana’s expected to be as opposed to her reality. The moments where she needs to perform in her eating versus what she does when she believes no one is looking just shows so much and the continuous increasing of pressure needs to reach its boiling point soon.
With the headlines of this film hitting the press, the big selling point was Kristen Stewart taking on the Diana role. The much-maligned but incredibly talented Stewart seemingly still had doubters she needed to prove wrong because of her previous involvement in a certain vampire movie series. If any of those detractors witness her performance here, it should all be washed away as Stewart absolutely uses what sets her apart as an actor and delivers such a beautifully nuanced performance. Almost struggling to get out words at times, Stewart nails the mental anguish of Diana and how she constantly fought with what she wanted versus what became expected of her. So much happening under the surface and Stewart captures it all as she has done in all of her best performances. More physical than anything else.
Receiving a biopic from Pablo Larraín always feels like a treat and he has continued to be a director whose work cannot be missed. Whether it be something like Jackie or his more eclectic work like Ema, the man knows how to direct the heck out of a movie and he does so once again. He takes Steven Knight’s script and elevates it to the extreme in the way he creates such a distressing experience. All of the awkward moments with the royal family create a level of distinct tension that constantly had me on the edge of my seat. With this being a supposed fable rather than the true story, anything could have realistically happened in the narrative and this never fully escapes any scene in particular. With there being plenty of nervousness in the narrative, the screenplay and Larraín ensure not to forget how much Diana loved her children and the tender scene she shares with them at night with some candles stands out as the finest sequence of the entire feature. It demonstrates who Diana was at her core when not forced to act a part.
Mystifying in its approach with a stranglehold that finally allows us to breathe along with the character, Spencer demonstrates why Pablo Larraín’s biopics stand out amongst the rest. Taking place within a very specific and impactful time in the subject’s life, this gets into Diana’s mind and tries to actually get at something meaningful rather than going through the cliff notes of her life. This film proves to be both a treat visually but also emotionally wrenching narratively, which serves as such a compliment to all of those involved.