Spencer

Spencer ★★½

I was open to this for the first half-hour or so and then increasingly soured on it as it went on; by the end I was actively hostile to it. I don't know why all of culture has suddenly decided that now is the time to profit off of this woman's life but I found this iteration of that ultimately self-interested goal to be particularly morally queasy since as far as I can tell this film has no insights into the historical Diana's life or the bizarre system in which she was caught and the character bears only a superficial relationship to what we know of the real person. Why do her children have to endlessly endure these public airings of their long-dead mother's traumas when the art made about them isn't even good or interesting?

The craft of this film is pretty impeccable (Jonny Greenwood doing stellar work as always, beautiful photography by Claire Mathon, solid work by the actors across the board, especially the wonderful child performers playing Will and Harry), but the screenplay is so empty that it all amounts to a lot of sound and fury, signifying nothing. Almost every conversation in this movie is symbolic or allegorical in nature; everything stands for something else; almost nothing feels specific or real. I know the intention of the film was to be something of a dark fairy tale but as it progresses it just feels increasingly as though the writer has nothing to say about any of these people or even about the bizarre life of Britain's aristocracy. It's just empty gestures and artistry that leads nowhere. The gruesome nature of the depiction of self-harm and bulimia feels like the film's effort to be challenging and "real," but without any solid grounding in character, context, place, it feels gratuitous rather than productive. (I also find the assertion some critics have made that the movie is really a commentary on fame more generally, uh... unpersuasive, to put it mildly.)

The relationship between Diana and the Sally Hawkins character feels reflective of the movie's problems as a whole: an imagined almost-romance with a woman (a servant no less, when Diana treats most of the other servants in this movie pretty awfully—except for Sean Harris' chef who assures her that they love her—an assertion that seems unlikely) in lieu of a more accurate depiction of one of the affairs Diana had with a man during the breakdown of her marriage and after. This feels like a self-satisfied effort to be subversive in some way but it's not substantial or interesting and it occludes the historical record for no real purpose. (I was thinking a lot about Moira Donegan's observation on Twitter that Hollywood keeps doing this, post-MeToo, to avoid having to represent straight male desire... feels right!)

The very end is also just risible in its badness. But mostly the movie just made me feel kind of sad and gross.

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