April 14, 2024

SPENCER (2021) – Portrait of a princess on the verge of a nervous breakdown


Rating: ⭐⭐ 1/2

Pablo Larrain’s Spencer starts off with the telling words “A Fable from a True Tragedy”. By virtue of that, the key word “fable” absconds the film from being treated as anything but pure fiction even though its central character is based on the very real life icon, the late Lady Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales. Anyone expecting to get an insight into the life of Diana à la the TV series The Crown, will be deeply disappointed as Spencer, is nothing like that at all. Instead, it focus on three days in the life of Diana during the Christmas holidays with the royals that took place in 1991. This was the last year Diana was married to Prince Charles, as they officially separated in 1992.

Director Pablo Larrain is no stranger to filming biographies of famous women, having helmed Jackie, the film about First Lady Jackie Kennedy in 2016. Here he puts on his creative and stylistic talents on display through a visual approach that reminds me of older classic movies. The film quality is deliberately grainy and the films’ aspect ratio is a bit different from the norm, with a slight black borders on the left and right of the screen (instead of the usual black bars on the top and bottom) giving a more squarish look. The surroundings of the Royal Christmas retreat, supposedly in the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, is hauntingly beautifully presented despite the mostly drably, wet and foggy atmosphere. The kitchen starts off like a military stockroom of armory that quickly transforms into a bustling hive of culinary activity worthy of any fine dining restaurant. Indeed, the sets and designs take on a secondary character of their own along side that of Kristen Stewart’s Spencer, who dominates much of the film’s entire running time. Ironically, most of the supporting characters, particularly those depicting members of the royal family, are merely presented as blurry backdrop and feel one-dimensional. This is a very one-sided portrayal of Diana Spencer during a crucial and particularly stressful period of her life. Her behaviour during the family Christmas retreat is erratic and under normal circumstances, can be skewed as someone who is difficult to please, rude, antisocial and uncompromising. Indeed if one were not aware of her background she can easily be deemed as an unsympathetic character.

The film is also clearly one sided in its portrayal of the Royal family and its heavy slant towards tradition and statutes of the institution. This is depicted in mostly a negative light. Members of the royal family are shown as distant and uncaring, while only a few members of the royal staff are shown as providing some level of support. One even confesses to a concealed love for the princess which seemed pretty unbelievable and clearly falls under the “fable” category.

Much have be touted on Kristen Stewart’s “Oscar worthy” performance here. Sorry but I have to beg to differ. Apart from looking pretty in a wide range of stunning outfits (over a mere 3 days of her life), she did her usual girl in distress act, mumbling and half swallowing her words along the way. The only difference is this time she has to put on a British accent. For me, all I see is Kristen Stewart acting and trying to look like Lady Diana, and I never once felt like I was watching the real Diana.

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