People are always going to have divided opinions about anyone in a position of power, though few can claim to have garnered more of them than the British Royal Family. While their role in actual governance has been significantly reduced over the years, they are still one of the longest reigning monarchies in the world; and due to their country’s history of global influence, one of the most recognizable. As such there remains significant interest in them, garnering seemingly equal numbers of admirers and detractors. It seems fitting then that this latest biopic from auteur director Pablo Larraín is likely to cause an equal amount of polarization amongst viewers.
The movie follows Diana, Princess of Wales (Kristen Stewart) as she attends the Christmas celebrations at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in 1991. Her marriage to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) is strained due to his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles (Emma Darwall-Smith) and the rest of the Royal Family react to her with icy indifference. The only friends she seems to have at the estate are her dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins) and her children William and Harry (Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry). She begins having visions of Anne Boleyn (Amy Manson) after discovering a book about her on her nightstand and her mental state begins to rapidly deteriorate as the staff tries to keep her in line.
There was initially a lot of skepticism around the casting of Stewart as Princess Diana, but it turns out she is a perfect fit for the blend of paranoid detachment and low-key hysteria the filmmakers were aiming for here, and she is radiant in the brief moments of happiness she gets to experience whenever she is left alone with her children. The plot isn’t necessarily very eventful, but the gothic horror-like atmosphere keeps viewers riveted throughout. It’s an interesting look at how long-entrenched structures of power can be used to oppress those they view as “other”, by erasing their histories and forcing them to fit into a very narrow box of “acceptable” behavior. What good is having access to nearly everything, when the one thing you can’t have is true freedom? Spencer is a sad and beautiful film with a lot to say that is well worth a watch, though likely to turn off those looking for a more traditional Royal biopic. ★★★★★
Rated R for some language.
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor