Princess Diana’s presence in global culture is something that cannot be ignored even to this very day. Growing up, many of us have constantly heard stories of her and the tragedy that took her life even though we weren’t alive to see it for ourselves. As an icon of such a large scale, many were skeptical when Spencer was first announced, as there is nothing worse than a biopic that fails to do justice by its main subject. Over the years, there have been many pieces of media about Diana, but none capture her essence quite like Pablo Larraín’s latest masterful work.
Shot in a mix of 16 and 35 mm film, Spencer is a feast for the eyes and at times it is beyond easy to feel as if the film holds elements of a documentary, creating a far more intimate experience. Larraín along with screenwriter Steven Knight perfectly isolate Diana as a character and apply her to a situation; in this case being the traditional three-day holiday of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Anyone who celebrates these holidays knows that with the complexities of familial affairs, an average Christmas is difficult enough, let alone a Royal Christmas. Therefore, picking this specific time period for the story is rather genius as it serves as a catalyst for the events which transpire.
Despite the degree of fame which Princess Diana gained, she maintained her sense of humanity where other royals did not. Larraín places the audience in the most private moments of the symbolic figure, allowing us to imagine what she would have been going through – even in the most trivial of times – in a genuine way, as the majority of how people view her today is through photography, interviews, and more traditional documentaries.
While Spencer will be classed as a work of fiction, it forms such harrowing parallels to the true events of Diana’s own life. On multiple occasions, distinct elements of horror and the supernatural are used to align the fate of Diana’s with that of Anne Boleyn, one of King Henry V’s wives, who he executed once he wanted a different wife by claiming that she was committing adultery when in reality, it was the other way around. In this poetic metaphor among several others, it is loud and clear where this film stands in terms of Diana’s tragic tale.
For what Spencer aims for, it gets practically as close to perfection as possible. The script is absolutely on point with such poignant and striking lines woven seamlessly into naturalistic dialogue. There are a few specific lines that pack a punch as Diana foreshadows what we know will be her demise. The film’s pace expertly matches the evolution of the story, allowing the sometimes harrowing events of Diana’s daily life to sink in. With other characters as profound as Prince Charles and also the Queen, it would not be unusual if the narrative was to lose focus, and yet Larraín manages to consistently keep Diana at the forefront. In seeing past, present, and future versions of Diana, the film is a sincere character study
Director of Photography Claire Mathon, who worked on the same level of craftsmanship on A Portrait of a Lady on Fire, has designed a profoundly chic cinematic palette. With Larraín’s influence, it is no surprise that the visual style does draw similarities to his previous acclaimed feature, Jackie. And just like that film, the way in which the various costume, hair, and makeup designs fuse together here is quite literally breathtaking.
The core of Spencer is Kristen Stewart’s powerhouse performance. When it comes to portraying a human being who is so well known, there is a pressure in visualizing them, a pressure in which Stewart does not crack under. Between her execution of Diana’s mannerisms, accent, and overall personality, this is without a doubt her most dazzling and intricate performance to date. Going into a biopic like this, there was a strong worry about performers strictly imitating their respective roles based on archival footage and such. With much relief, Kristen takes creative liberties as a true artist to avoid her version of Diana becoming a caricature, with the final result being a fully-fleshed, brand new outlook on the People’s Princess.
Alongside Stewart is a flawless ensemble, embodying the auras of these individuals who are essential to the film’s overarching plot. Jack Farthing encapsulates Prince Charles’s stern demeanor with ease, creating a quintessential foil to Stewart’s often exuberant Diana. The young actors who play William and Harry are able to evoke such tender emotions, creating some charming scenes which display how playful Diana could be as a mother and how she wanted, more than all else, to give her children and herself a sense of normality.
This is a story for everyone who holds even the faintest memory of Princess Diana close to them. Spencer is a spectacular, rare kind of biopic that portrays its main subject as more fully-fledged than ever before. The film ends on a hopeful and positive tone, making it all the more emotional when thinking of how the real ending played out. A stunning cinematic experience that fully engrosses you within the most extreme sentiment of what it means to be secluded, this brilliant retelling is an absolute must-see.
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