Thursday, November 4, 2021

Spencer - Review

When historical figures are elevated to cultural icons, people often wonder: what’s their life like? For Princess Diana, that seems even more true than ever. The fascination surrounding the life of the late princess has never ceased and, if anything, has grown. Naturally, someone was going to take another crack at showcasing her life to audiences, and this time it’s Pablo Larraín, who took the life of Jackie Kennedy and crafted a gorgeous and enthralling look at the former First Lady back in 2016, and looks to do the same with Spencer.

In 1991, while spending the Christmas holiday with the royal family at Sandringham House, Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) decides to leave Prince Charles (Jack Farthing).

Without a doubt, the single driving factor behind the anticipation of Spencer is the performance of Kristen Stewart. And she more than delivers. In a role that tasks her with being perpetually polite and ever so nervous, Stewart’s performance features a brilliant veil over the agitation Diana feels at her role as the pretty face and muted personality that’s expected of her. This life asks her to live lavishly, to give in to decadence and arbitrary traditions, and Diana continually rejects this with her small outbursts and little moments of rebellion. As if she is slowly trying to escape the claustrophobia and pressure that’s squeezing her from all sides. 

She plays perfectly into the odd horror movie atmosphere that director Pablo Larraín has lended to this biopic. Whether it’s the confining cinematography of Claire Mathon or the superbly eery score from Johnny Greenwood, Larraín’s film wants to put you in Diana’s state of mind. It’s effective, placing the audience firmly in a position where options are limited and the outlook for the future is bleak at best. Diana is surviving her own life, constrained by external forces that seek to invade and control every aspect of her. 

In lieu of this film not being a conventional biopic, the writing must take new angles and meanings from the real life tragedy that Diana came to be a part of. The opening text states: This is a fable based on a true tragedy. Indicating to everyone that this is not to be taken at face value, but more of a peak inside the life of Diana herself. Early on, Diana also remarks that in their lives “the future doesn’t exist, just the past and present”, epitomizing the whole theme of the narrative. The past and present are collapsing in on each other, leaving very little hope for the future. 

The final product here is a fascinating dive into an icon that seeks to showcase her humanity. Stewart’s performance will most certainly earn her numerous awards, and rightfully so. In the small moments and larger challenges, the actress carries a radiance and politeness, while hiding a turmoil behind her eyes. Spencer is a bold and poetic twist on biopics, and certainly one of the finest films of 2021.

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