Spencer (2021)

Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry,
During her Christmas holidays with the royal family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, Diana Spencer, struggling with mental health problems, decides to end her decade-long marriage to Prince Charles.
  • 6.8 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2021-11-24 Added:
  • Steven Knight, Writer:
  • Pablo Larraín, Director:
  • Maren Ade, Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski, Juan de Dios Larraín, Producer:


10 / 10

Sandwich cringing times. Stewart is brilliant and Pablo Larrain captures a suffocating atmosphere

It would appear Pablo Larrain has done it again, following up on Jackie, another story of a woman depicted in an environment and film stock of despair with a film that is related to that while standing on its own as a story that lays bare a public figure to the gaping heart that's buried underneath years of speculation - where the image of someone like Diana has to be stripped away, and where the clothes themselves become like a prison of everyday life.

This was at times (a phrase I don't throw around lightly) downright Kubrickian in the equal sense of cinematographic grandeur and surreality/absurdity (here more the former than the latter), where there is so much space to take in and close-up faces of restraint and yet everything is heightened and even horrific. This is a film that isn't without nuance, but Lsrrain knows full well as Kubrick did to get at a deeper truth you got to make some bold decisions in directing a performance or making a shot so distinctly from our protagonist's pov that itself is a comment on the psychological spaces.

And this is by an easy mark Stewart's most successful, soulful, heartbreaking performance where the little tics she sometimes (arguably many times) has serves this character 1000%. Adding to this everyone around Diana - save for Hawkins' Maggie - is trying to maintain the status quo, and Spall is a particular stand out as well.

And you cringe because so much of this is about behavior, that for all of her mental and psychosomatic fragility this Diana is far more recognizable as a human being than any of these glowering royals - keeping the place cold as can be of course - and there is humor that has almost no choice at points but to come out from the cringe, but also just cringe at the sense of a human being caught in all of the hard rock places. I'm not being hyperbolic when I say there isn't a more torturous and uncomfortable dinner scene in modern cinema as from the POV of one character as here (those pearls falling down oy).

Another point of comparison in what I hope is a complimentary sense and it may be because of watching it so recently, but Dune came to mind; how a filmmaker can with this brooding yet delicate and consuming precision give you a total sense of how it FEELS to be a figure with all the pressure on them and st a moment where change MUST happen or all is lost.

Of course there are some differences as to how and where the hero and heroine of these respective movies go to break into what they gave to become - but I'm struck by in particular with Larrain he emphasizes the ghost figure, with Anne Boylen coming in like a figure out of Gothic tradition, that what she tells her sons at one point about Tense - past, present, future - is what it's all about. Spencer is a staggering portrait of order and disorder, of a figure in a place where everything has to be presented and be Just So, and all one can think is... someone really could use a friggin' hug!

6 / 10

Stewart is good, but the narrative is way tot one-dimensional.

Kristin Stewart could certainly not be accused of being half-hearted here. She immerses herself completely in this depiction of a rather unstable woman dealing with the pressures of her fame and her family. The extent of any authenticity as to the feelings and experiences by the real life Princess is anyone's guess, so though I did appreciate her effort, I felt the rest of the film took a rather uncompromising view on other people who are either dead, or unable to retaliate against this somewhat one-sided portrayal of a scenario that all concerned have subsequently admitted was way more nuanced and complex than presented in this overly-simplistic depiction. It doesn't help that the opening scenes purport to be Queen Elizabeth's Sandringham estate in Norfolk, but look nothing remotely like that distinctive building - and from there on in, the story speculates wildly on real life events in a fashion that I just found irritating, implausible - hysterical, even. Her ability to randomly roam the countryside (with or without her children) without any security beggars belief somewhat, and the somewhat curious references to "currency" alluding to the double edged swords of a privileged no pain no gain existence is all just too contrived. This portrayal of an emotionally struggling lady is to be commended, but it has little to do with reality and as a man who lived in the UK throughout the rise and fall of this flawed individual, much of this comes across as little more than a clumsy attempt to capitalise on a tragic story with scant regard to anyone else who actually had to endure at that time - or, indeed, to fact.

1 / 10

I had to leave the cinema as I couldn't stand the score

I put my hands over my ears and took my hearing aids off,but nothing worked. When it got to the scene where she imagines herself back home I left the cinema. Id had enough. The film dragged on interminably. Poor acting,camera movement for the sake of it,and fussy direction.

7 / 10

Haunting and intimate in the moment look at a lady of power.

"Spencer" is one eye opening film and look at a lady who seems backed into a corner it's like she wants escape and hopes for joy from her life of royal feel and wealth. The film has it's focus on the 1991 Christmas holiday at the Sandringham family estate with Princess Diana(Kristen Stewart) with her two sons and it's a tense time during her life as she wants to break away from husband Prince Charles. The holiday feast involves a get together with dinner and being with royal family and friends, while Diana reads to escape too, the film even shows her in a wild daydream. The scenes shot are tense showing Diana backed into corners in a very emotional state that haunts. The makeup and costumes that Kristen wore makes good for along with her performance believable as Diana. Really I would have wished to see more of a historical and autobiographical type film as this film is more of a take of her life just in a certain moment even though it entertains with Stewart's performance.

10 / 10

Is this magnificent film really about Princess Diana?

The first thing you have to get your head around is that Pablo Larrain's new film "Spencer" isn't 'about' Princess Diana, at least not in any literal sense, although Diana herself is never off the screen. Perhaps a title at the beginning, 'a fable based on a true tragedy', is the clue. This is a fantasy or maybe simply a tragedy, (of the Shakespearean variety), in which everything is filtered through the gaze and the mind of a mad Princess of Wales, (Hamlet and the Court at Elsinore as imagined, rather than actually seen, by Ophelia). Larrain and screenwriter Steven Knight's Diana may as well be a fictional character since nothing we see is 'real' even if some of it may be true.

It's set over the three days of Christmas at Sandringham, presumably after Charles and Diana have separated and Diana has returned for the holidays. In this version of events, that clearly never happened, she is already deeply disturbed, blaming the Royal Family and Charles' affair with Camilla for everything. The only affection she gets is from her two sons and her servants, particularly her dresser, (a superb Sally Hawkins). Her in-laws hover in the background like zombies ready to devour her and like zombies are mostly silent with only Charles and the Queen, (as well as William and Harry), given anything to say, (Charles tries to be sympathetic, the Queen doesn't). "The Crown" this isn't. Knight has no sympathy for any of them though it's never clear if he believes that they were responsible for Diana's supposed breakdown, Only dresser Maggie, (Hawkins), head chef Darren, (Sean Harris), and senior equerry Major Gregory. (a brilliant Timothy Spall), are prepared to indulge her and let her go her own way.

Of course, none of it is true. This could be any woman having a serious mental breakdown anywhere and at anytime and stylistically this is a tour-de-force built around a phenomenal performance by Kristin Stewart as Diana. Yes, she captures the mannerisms perfectly but is there any evidence that Diana was as off-the-rails as she's presented as being here and while the Royal Family are certainly as dysfunctional as any dysfunctional family could be, I've never for a moment believed they were ever this cold, (this is the chilliest Christmas of any screen Christmas I've seen), but this is not the point.

The fault lines governing relationships and the fragility of human behaviour is what has always interested Larrain and this film is no different. Despite streaks of humour this is far from comfortable viewing and it's unlikely it will prove popular at the box-office. Stewart's Oscar, however, is virtually guaranteed; this is as fine a piece of acting as I've ever seen and other Oscar contenders such as Jessica Chastain and Lady Gaga will have to resign themselves that 2021 just wasn't their year.