Release Date – 5th November 2021, Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 57 minutes, Director – Pablo Larraín
1991, feeling increasingly repressed, Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) spends a brief yet tense Christmas with the royal family at Sandringham House.
Spencer is very much a film not just concerned with restrictions faced by Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) as a member of the royal family, but one where she finds her mental state declining when seemingly beginning to believe the rumours circulated about her. Harassed by the tabloids who will gladly print anything to put her less in favour with the rest of the royals it’s hard not to have your mind thrown to more recent echoing events. As Diana struggles through the endless, closing in corridors of Sandringham House she fears “all rumours of my disintegration confirmed”. We’re firmly placed in the spiralling state of her mind, pushed further by Jonny Greenwood’s eclectic, swirling score and director Pablo Larraín’s swirling use of the camera. Tension rises throughout the film and it truly feels as if there could be any outcome within the dark fantasy course that the piece seems to travel along.
As for the rest of the royal family themselves there’s little dialogue given to them. A handful of key exchanges, particularly heated arguments with an imposing Jack Farthing as Prince Charles. There’s something gothic to the presentation of many scenes involving the family. A number of dizzying dinner sequences where Diana finds it difficult to stomach the lavish dishes laid out in front of her almost play out like a horror film. The idea of “they don’t want us to be people” echoes in such scenes as daunting stares pierce through Diana and further bring her down; there’s an ease to which almost every other character is made to feel like an antagonist. It’s clear with very little being said that judgement and mistrust are placed heavily upon Stewart’s sensationally performed central figure while she simply tries to be a good mother to her two children (Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry as William and Harry respectively).
It feels that the only people who are there to show any sympathy are dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins), constantly offering calm words of comfort and understanding solace to Diana at the most difficult of times, and head chef Darren (Sean Harris). While unable to do much in his position he does the best he can to look after Diana from the sidelines in preparing food especially for her, altering his menu in the process. They offer slight relief from the tension that’s felt rising throughout. However, during such moments you almost don’t want to completely enjoy the moment as you know that soon you’ll see Stewart thrown back into the ring with worry and fear flooding her tearful eyes. It’s a truly emotional performance that forms an almost immediate connection with the audience and holds them in place for the entire run-time. As she’s hounded by the press outside of a church on Christmas Day she glances away from the gaze of the cameras and it becomes immediately clear that Kristen Stewart IS Princess Diana and her effort truly pays off with a flood of impact.
When paired with the design and look of the piece – Sandringham is a cold residence often surrounded by mist or darkness to provide no way out – there’s a true feeling of entrapment. Each scene is so wonderfully and carefully shot to emphasise such feelings, particularly a heated exchange between Charles and Diana after she apparently hasn’t followed various instructions, including wearing certain clothes at specific times, you’re caught in the swirling nature that the film and Stewart’s performance – which will, deservedly, likely be a hit come awards season – so wonderfully capture.
There are plenty of layers that blend together with ease within Spencer. All excellently delivered through Kristen Stewart’s triumphant central performance as her central figure gradually breaks down under the pressure of both the press and those who she’s supposed to be spending Christmas with. It’s an often gothic depiction with horror-like elements that help to raise the tension and your immersion within in the piece. Topped off with the quietly lit design and visual strength of the piece, and Larraín’s swirling use of the camera to match Jonny Greenwood’s similarly spiralling score there’s plenty to bring you into Spencer. Helping you connect with the titular figure, reclaiming her identity, yet still leaving you with fear that something could go very wrong. It’s a finely drawn line and it’s walked along with strength and confidence that helps to further solidify this depiction of Diana Spencer.
Tense, gothic and dizzying, with little time for hesitant breaths of relief, there’s a lot swirling within Spencer, all perfectly captured within Kristen Stewart’s fabulous central performance. One which forms an easy connection with the viewer and truly gets you into the breaking-down mind of the repressed central figure.