Film review: Spencer (12A)
Saturation coverage of the life and tragic death of Princess Diana has surely left out nothing new to tell. So much so that the idea of another movie might have inspired a collective sigh. It’s a good thing then, that Spencer does not seek to tell that familiar tale, but rather to show – through a snapshot of Christmas at Sandringham in 1991 – her emotional struggle within a family where a stiff upper lip must always be maintained.
Directed by Pablo Larrain (who also directed the 2016 Jackie Kennedy movie starring Natalie Portman), Spencer is a moodily shot study of a woman on the edge. Trapped by the institution of the monarchy, paranoid about her husband’s infidelity and the motives of those around her, she fluctuates wildly: a tornado whirling ineffectively through an unyielding fortress.
The score by Jonny Greenwood is melancholy and full of warning (predicting events yet to come) and it provides a haunting accompaniment to Kristen Stewart’s desperate and fragile princess. Addressing Diana’s neurosis head on, Stewart crafts a very human version of the woman who has become more legend than person.
Known for starring in the Twilight Saga (2008 – 2012), Stewart has herself been someone heavily hounded by the press. Her relationships, sexuality, and demeanour have all been speculated upon and criticised. In this way, she can probably relate to Diana, and this – as well as her natural apprehensive awkwardness – make her a very good choice for the role.
She is the standout of the film, not only because she is onscreen at least 98% of the time, but because she gives an unwaveringly strong performance. One which, for those familiar with her work outside Twilight, is not unexpected.
Spencer is melodramatic and bewildering, at times both deep and shallow. It is lovely to look at and the costumes and set design are fantastic. Those looking for a different approach to Diana will appreciate the candid nature of the film, which is sprinkled with fantastical elements such as Anne Boleyn’s ghost.
Spencer does not aim to tell a story. Rather it aims to express a feeling. In that, it succeeds, and without making villains of either Charles or The Queen. Because the whole film is essentially inside Diana’s head, everyone else is a peripheral character, and this works well in showing Diana’s isolation.
An unusual, intimate snippet of a tragic life
On general release