“Spencer” – history inspires cinematic art

“Where the fuck am I?”

Story: Princess Diana, aka Lady Diana Spencer, goes to Sandringham Castle for the Christmas holidays in 1991. But you know the story, and you’ve read and seen lots about Diana. This film digs into feelings, thoughts, and fantasies that evoke this emotional moment.

Genre I’d put it in: to quote the text at the beginning of the film, this is a “Fable From A True Tragedy”.

Remake, Sequel, Based-On, or Original: Based on the life of the Royal Family, specifically the immediate family of Queen Elizabeth II…and, of course, Princess Diana.

Gotta say: In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes, Stewart said “You bring all the things you know about her to the film”, and I know I did. Spencer is a surreal fantasy that may not be everyone’s cuppa – folks who go to movies to see action instead of “people talking all the time” may find this a snooze. However, if you’re willing to sink into this version of a group of real-life characters in the hope of some sort of semi-joyful catharsis we were all denied by Diana’s tragic death in 1997? You’ll eat this up. To repeat myself, I know I did.

Stewart is definitely gonna get an Oscar nod, no question. It’s basically her race to lose at this point; Stewart owns every scene she’s in, portraying Diana as strong-willed by uncertain, angry yet broken, and desperately trying to keep herself from falling apart at the seams. Though Stewart nails the movements and tics of Diana, it’s the ability to delve into the psyche of the Princess that’s truly a marvel to watch. I was broken hearted for the “character” I saw on screen, knowing how her life would play out in the real world. Stewart projects a certain level of tragedy onto Diana on top of the other emotions she brings to the role in any given scene, and it’s a powerhouse of a performance. Sending out big kudos to Timothy Spall as Diana’s Christmas watchdog Major Gregory, Sean Harris as the royal Cook Darren, Sally Hawkins as Diana’s no-BS dresser Maggie, and Jack Farthing as a distant but helpful-in-his-way Prince Charles. Each of these actors balanced many emotions, delivering what’s gone unsaid with grace that made these performances look easy. (They’re not, btw.)

Director Pablo Larraín brings the same touch of abstract wonder to Spencer that he did with Jackie, choosing to focus on the emotions the individuals could have been going through rather than documented facts. (Though there are a lot of real life moments/anecdotes that this film builds into its narrative.) He also makes unusual choices with shot composition, delivering images that are meaningful; still shots from this film could definitely stand alone as framed art. I should have immediately known the cinematographer – listed as DP/Director of Photography at IMDb – was Claire Mathon, as the stunning wide-shots, and “fly on the wall” POV harks back to her work on Portrait of a Lady on Fire. So basically you’ve got yourself a three film binge if you’re in the mood for lush visuals that’ll make you feel all the feelings. Or, like me, you can just watch Spencer again and really soak in this gorgeous high art/high drama film.

Grade: A

#Protip: Though this film is saturated with fantasy, the scene where Diana takes her sons to go get fast food was based on real life.

About Denise

Professional nerd. Lover of licorice.
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