Spencer Review: Kristen Stewart's stifling, free-spirited balancing act as Princess Diana is a masterstroke

Updated on Nov 19, 2021 08:50 PM IST  |  244.2K
Spencer review
Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana in Spencer.


Spencer Cast: Kristen Stewart

Spencer Director: Pablo Larraín

Spencer Stars: 4/5

Spencer Review 1

"Keep Noise to a Minimum: They Can Hear You," a sign, blatantly given stark focus inside the spick and span Sandringham kitchen, in the first few minutes of Spencer, with military officials carrying carefully picked ingredients for the royal family as if it were AK47s. This motif is just one of many to describe Princess Diana's nightmarish royal life while dressed impeccably like a daydream.

Spencer, termed as "a fable of a true tragedy," spans three crucial days at Queen Elizabeth's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk, between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, which was when Diana made the monumental decision to divorce Prince Charles after a decade of a loveless marriage. However, in a brilliant script-writing move by Steven Knight, Spencer focuses not on Diana and Charles' dwindled relationship but is solely about Diana and her contrasting state of mind; oscillating between being stifled with her wings clipped by the monarchy and the becoming of a free spirit.

We see that in Spencer's opening sequence when Diana makes the impulsive decision to drive to the estate by herself and gets lost, only to enter a tavern with her first line uttered: "Where the f**k am I?" All the while, the customers and staff look at her in utter bewilderment, shocked to see the 'Princess of the People' in the flesh asking or directions, almost as if she were real and just came out of their television screens. What follows is a haunting tale of a terrified woman, yearning for freedom while buried neck-deep in royal shackles. What we get from Spencer is a psychodrama where Diana is tested to her limits, in every nook and corner of the house, as she battles not just the watchful eyes of the media and her own family, but is also losing herself under the ruse of bulimia, depression, resulting in bouts of self-harm. The imagery with Diana's picked outfits for each meal and day, all in the name of having "fun," with obvious "tradition" conditions attached, lays further emphasis on just how controlled the media darling was, even away from the cameras.

Spencer Review 2

Kristen Stewart, in Spencer, takes a unique approach from various cinematic versions of Princess Diana's past reiterations as there aren't just femininely timid qualities like the downward eyes and slight tilt but there's urgent unrest in other mannerisms, where she's a rebel with a cause. This is specifically seen in the brilliantly shot montage of Diana dancing her way through pivotal moments, adorning some of her most cherished outfits ever worn like her iconic royal wedding dress (Jacqueline Durran's niche costume recreation is delectable to a t!), seeking a tinge of freedom within the smothering walls of the royal estate.

While there are some truly terrifying sequences in Spencer, not in terms of horror elements but more about just how cornered Diana was made to feel with her curtains literally wired up, it's when Diana indulges in the tender moments of melancholic, silent sanity that Kristen truly shines. Whether that be her undying maternal instincts to protect her young sons, the equally shielding yet distressed Prince William (Jack Nielen) and the cheeky Prince Harry (Freddie Spry) or finding confidantes in her appointed Royal Dresser, Maggie (Sally Hawkins), and Royal Head Chef, Darren McGrady (Sean Harris), who deeply desire to retain Diana's true self in the midst of watchdogs disguised as humans.

With Spencer, Kristen (criminally underrated!) has more or less guaranteed herself an Oscar nomination as it's not only the uncanny physical transformation with a pitch-perfect 'whispering' accent to gloat, it's also her absolute dedication in telling Diana's tale without being overtly sympathetic or consciously negligent. Stewart finally gets a role that shows us how versatile she can be, when given a chance, with Spencer! Using Diana's "dangerous" beat-down childhood home and her fixation with her father's old coat, stolen from a scarecrow, parallels how Diana was still stuck as that little girl before being tied down by monarchy. Hence, the hallucinations from a beaming past follow her around like a fever dream. Suspension of disbelief is evident all through the movie, especially in moments of forced solace, inside bathroom stalls and wired curtains. The juxtaposition with Diana reading Anne Boleyn's biography (Anne Boleyn: Life and Death of a Martyr); Henry VIII's wife who was accused of adultery and beheaded so that the king could marry someone else, was carefully implanted throughout the movie to make you understand just how f****d up her glamorous life really was.

Like I mentioned before, Diana and Charles' breaking point in their marriage was just an appetiser sprinkled in the form of a short dinner table argument along with a more elaborate one, on opposite sides of a pool table, as Charles finds pride in the fact that his extramarital affair with Camila (Emma Darwall-Smith) is behind closed doors while showing his agitated anger towards Diana for breaking the rules like switching dresses. Though limited, Jack Farthing's brooding arrogance is well-timed with Charles' public eye relationship with Diana. Even the evasive equation between Diana and Queen Elizabeth II (Stellar Gonet) is consciously sown in its bare minimum. Wonderfully delightful in adding some much-needed colour to Diana's monochromatic life are Sally and Darren as the Princess' genuine, loyal confidantes while Timothy Spall as Queen's Equerry, Major Alistair Gregory, the one who flagrantly watches so that others don't, is remarkably intrusive, especially with his stern expressions always aimed at Diana. Alistair becomes Diana's displacement, instead of the royal family.

ALSO READ: From Naomi Watts to Kristen Stewart, these actresses essayed Princess Diana’s portrayal to perfection

Just like his impressive 'experimental' showing with Jackie, Pablo Larrain adds his own introspective charm into directing Spencer, without ever misusing Diana's traumas against her. It's Jonny Greenwood's theatric jazz music spectacle throughout Spencer, in particular, that trudges on a narrative of its own, meeting Diana's slow steps and increasing strides with careless, dramatic elegance. Claire Mathon's intricate cinematography lays the landscape for Diana's inner turmoil through POV shots to wide angles of the Princess being too small for the luxurious Sandringham halls, curated to pristine perfection by Guy Hendrix Dyas' production design. With a runtime, just short of two hours, there's a disillusioned aspect in Sebastián Sepúlveda's editing which cuts deep throughout.

Spencer couldn't have been a more apt title for Pablo Larrain's cinematic character study of Princess Diana because no matter how bittersweet her real life ending may have culminated into (similar to Jonathan Larson, legendary playwright, who died before his iconic musical, Rent, premiered, with Tick, Tick... Boom! releasing today as well!) for a while, Diana was allowed to get rid of the royal handcuffs, or pearls, and be what she truly craved for; fighting freedom to save herself and being a mother. It's a story that's conventionally relatable to the masses, which is why I'd like to think Diana was truly loved by everyone except her own. There's a sequence in Spencer where Diana wonders how she will be remembered 1000 years from now, even finding commonality with pheasants. Well, Princess Diana's kindness stood the test of time for decades since and continues to live on. The name is Spencer, Diana Spencer.




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Anonymous : Poor innocent thing . till the end she was searching for true love .
REPLY 1 1 week ago