Spencer ★★★

Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larraín continues his dramatic saga observing iconic world female figures with Spencer, a “fable” detailing Princess Diana’s sad Christmas weekend before she announces her divorce from Prince Charles and the royal family. A companion piece to 2016’s Jackie about former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy—Spencer is a moody introspection through the mind of a world-famous woman. It’s Princess Diana on a verge of a nervous breakdown, or as it seems, she’s already having it.

Larraín is a smart, visually austere director capable of exerting discomfort and surreal elements to the mix. And considering that this is a “fable,” Spencer wallows in absurdity and ghosts, with feelings and behaviors that are all disjointed and from what could be inside Diana’s mind during that time. In it, Diana is emotionally suppressed, haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn, another queen in distress who is beheaded by the King after marrying another woman. Interestingly enough, Anne Boleyn gives Diana the freedom to get through the difficult holiday weekend and finally a way for her liberation and happiness.

However, Spencer’s journey through self-liberation is laborious and monotonous. The writing is the weak aspect of all the film’s elements as it struggles to retain freshness and urgency to the things that we already know which includes her struggle to fit in, her caged existence, her eating disorder and most of all her marital problems. While the humor and metaphorical suggestions are a bit stiff in delivery. The major delights of Spencer comes from its technical elements, particularly Jonny Greenwood’s beautifully suspenseful scoring and Claire Mathon’s atmospheric camera work. It’s in these elements that make up and fill in the gaps that the writing couldn’t offer.

Kristen Stewart delivers her most ambitious performance to date and her work is undeniable. It’s great to see Stewart committing to Larrain’s daring way of filmmaking, and it might not be for everybody, but it shows how the two can speak in one cinematic language. Combined with her accent and daring physicality, Stewart’s uncomfortable, awkward acting mannerisms served well in her portrayal of Diana. I will be honest in saying that it took a while to get used to Stewart’s portrayal, because her vocal work (breathy and whispery) is strained as some of the words she’s saying is incomprehensible. It’s an inconsistent impersonation at times, but Stewart is at her best when her Diana lights up unbothered with her kids.

Spencer also makes good use of its time detailing Diana’s relationship to her service people (the maids, the dressers, the chefs, and the crew). Her interactions might feel like she’s a stuck-up brat, however it effectively displays how Diana is perceived and viewed by the people. This is when Diana becomes more human, more realized to her surroundings. Stewart’s interactions with Sally Hawkins (divine as always), Sean Harris, and Timothy Spall added more texture and humanity to the film’s austere aura.

Spencer is not for everybody’s liking and I get it. I like how it shies away from the messiness of The Crown’s melodrama, and how it features Diana in her darkest hour in which people don’t want to see. There’s some unsparing vision here brought by Larrain and Stewart, and it’s quite undeniable. Easy to like, but not to love.

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