“A fable from a true tragedy” sets the tone for Spencer showing an in-depth, peak behind the curtain view of the royal family and the dysfunction and devastating events leading up to Christmas through Boxing Day that rarely gets seen from this point of view. And when I say behind the curtain, I mean that literally since one of the various maids at the request of Price Charles (Jack Farthing) in Pablo Larraín’s film literally wire Princess Diana’s (Kristen Stewart) curtains closed due to paparazzi and the media getting exclusive photos.
Screenwriter Steven Knight creates a 72-hour nightmare that traps Princess Diana in a hallucinatory sequence of events that pushes her to her limit – even causing fragmented relationships within the royal family. After Prince Charles is found out to be cheating, Princess Diana takes it upon herself to detach herself and her children Prince Harry (Freddie Spry) and Prince William (Jack Neilen) from the royal family. Full of conspiracy, Diana begins to dream of Queen Anne Boleyn who at first haunts Diana but pushes her to make the leap of faith and leave all the pain she suffered behind. In that time Princess Diana becomes trapped in her own head, begins to self-doubt and harm herself while breaking free is her only motivation for not becoming something she doesn’t want.
Spencer plays out like a horror film from Diana’s eyes. In a sense it’s her coming of age story. Every decision she makes – whether it’s accepted or not is hers, yet no one can see the pain Diana struggles with. She can’t trust a single soul in her home except for her children and the Royal Dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins). Everything Diana sees should be taken with a grain of salt – what is real and what is a fantasy playing out inside her head. Diana is broken, constantly being reminded of Prince Charles’s adultery by the gifted iconic pearl necklace.
Dating myself, only two major significant events happened when I was a boy growing up in the 1990’s – the trial of OJ Simpson and the death of Princess Diana. Bother were international events that captured the attention of every person with a television and cable access. I remember watching the news coverage and the outpouring of support for Princess Diana. It was truly something spectacular to witness. But luckily, this film takes places years prior to that tragedy. But still this film is a tragedy.
At its heart and soul, Pablo Larraín’s film is about love. The power of self-love for one and its importance to mental health and the burden thrust upon her while a part of the royal family. Prince Charles captures it perfectly, and I’m paraphrasing – “There must be two of you, the real you and the one the world sees, the fake one”. That line sticks with Diana throughout Christmas and Boxing Day.
As Diana, Kristen Stewart is breathtaking – truly embodying the late Princess of Wales. Being as I was way too young to even know what she was like as a person, Stewart plays the role with a ferocious independence, refusing to let history decide who she is going to be. Stewart also brings out the darkness in Princess Diana, a side many never thought was possible since the Royal family controls everything within those walls including how to act, speak and hold yourself in the eyes of the public. But Stewart’s eyes say it all – the pain, the torment and the sadness can easily be seen, Princess Diana is truly broken.
Juxtaposed with all the pain and sadness is hope – hope that Diana can break free and become independent of Charles and the Royal family. Hope that she can heal from the infidelity and hope that her two sons can finally see their mother happy.
Whether the events are fake, used as storytelling devices for a unique look into the life of the Princess of Wales, the mannerisms of those around Diana come off as rude, apathetic, and harsh. Regardless, if there is a standard of how to act, Diana Is struggling and no one seems to really care about her problems – only serving the crown and that she makes it on time to dinner in the correct dress. She’s seen as an object rather a person. Stewart’s rendition of Diana is a risk since it’s showing a side to her that may not land with audiences the way it’s written but it works. Her Diana is sympathetic, you want her to gain her independence and be herself, not chained to something that has broken her spirit.
along with Pig, Neon, who produced this film has shown two of the leading best performances of 2021- first with Nicolas Cage and now with Kristen Stewart. at their core, both films are surrounded by Love and friendship. Cage and his beloved Pig and Stewart with her sons and Maggie.
Stewart’s performance should land the actresses first best actress nomination at the academy awards – Stewart is brilliant in capturing the essence of Princess Diana. She has proved she is more than her time as Bella from Twilight, same as Robert Pattinson. Both have grown as performers in their careers post the adapted franchise. A powerful score by Jonny Greenwood creates the haunted yet beautiful sound of Diana’s inner struggle while Pablo Larraín creates an elegant atmosphere between characters and their counterparts that rarely gets seen by the public eye. If for nothing else, the adorable Corgi’s should be enough to watch this film.
Written By: Steven Knight
Directed By: Pablo Larraín
Music By: Jonny Greenwood
Cinematography: Claire Mathon
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, Sally Hawking
Release Date: November 5, 2021
Running Time: 1 Hour 57 Minutes
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
My Score: 3.5 out of 5