Spencer ★★★★

2021 Ranked

Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is a beautifully crafted and intimate portrait of Princess Diana and her marital/familial problems with the Royal Family, focusing in on a Christmas holiday in the early 90s that becomes her breaking point.

The film’s opening setting note reads: “A Fable From a True Tragedy.” This note captures poetically and accurately the tone of the film and sets us up for the fantastical tragedy that is to come. Larraín plays out the film often like a dream - or in Diana’s case, a nightmare - as we observe her navigating claustrophobic and incompassionate interactions with the nobility around her. 

The film is unrelenting in its claustrophobia. Claire Mathon’s camera angles are tight - often close-ups or tracking - as if we the audience are the constant observation and pressure that she feels. Jonny Greenwood’s score is dissonant, hazy, and cacophonous, matching the cinematography and successfully immerses us in the madness spinning in Diana’s head. The production design and costumes are also stellar, and the film is a big haunted beauty to watch.

Kristen Stewart is mostly solid here, though I wasn’t as blown away as everyone else seems to be. And I’m typically a fan of hers! I found her control of the emotionally intense moments the best, as well as the scenes with her kids. The low energy drama was a little dull and I really felt the impersonations then.

I was most underwhelmed by Knight’s screenplay. I enjoy that we are being dropped into a specific moment in Diana’s life, but there’s a lack of definition in a lot of the characters. I don’t really understand the significance of the Major and what exactly his part was in Diana’s liberation. The moments with the chef were nice, but I wanted much more. And not nearly enough conflict with Prince Charles. And additionally, I don’t fully understand what that montage was in the house apart from loose memories of feeling alive.

It’s a serious mood piece about mental illness,  emotional entrapment, and liberation through love. I’m here for it.

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