Spencer Review

The Crown has done a great job depicting the lives of the Royals going back to the beginning of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Last season, they started showing more of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. Season 6 is going to have more of this royal couple on The Crown. In the meantime, Pablo Larraín (Jackie) has made a film about three days in the life of Diana Spencer and the Royal Family during the Christmas holiday.

Diana Spencer (Kristen Stewart, Clouds of Sils Maria) is portrayed at the most vulnerable time in her relationship with Prince Charles. Ten years into her marriage, she is having a nervous breakdown. The only people she feels she can talk to are the servants: the dresser, Maggie (Sally Hawkins, The Shape of Water), the chef Darren (Sean Harris, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), and someone who won’t leave her alone, Sir Gregory (Timothy Spall, Mr. Turner).

Kristen Stewart is a well-known actress famous for the Twilight films, but she is so much more than that as far as I’m concerned. I saw just a glimpse of her acting ability in Into the Wild, but her full potential was realized in films like The RunawaysClouds of Sils Maria, and Personal Shopper. She showed she can step out of the shoes of Bella Swan and flourish. Her portrayal of Diana Spencer in Spencer is nothing short of brilliant. She has to show a lot of emotions throughout the film. Her state of depression as well as her eating disorder are all out there for everyone to see. The pain and suffering Stewart has to exude as Spencer is incredible. On top of that, she has a perfect British accent to boot. This is the best performance of Stewart’s career bar none.

Along with the stellar performance by Stewart and others is a score by Johnny Greenwood to match the cold, dark, and dour feel of this film. The sounds of strings from violins to cellos and from ratchet up the tension as Stewart is in more and more pain as the film progresses. Greenwood downplays the score in less tense moments. As she feels the anxiety of various scenes at the dinner table or dream sequences, the score matches her pain. It is pulse-pounding at times. Greenwood deserves consideration for a nomination for best score next year at the Academy Awards.

This film has some cringeworthy moments that, to be honest, are hard to get through. If it weren’t for Stewarts’ performance and Greenwood’s score, they would almost be laughable. The mental illness aspects of the film were handled fine — it’s just that they came off as hard to believe at times. Yes, I know we all know the truth of what happened to Lady Diana. Putting that aside, she had everything anyone could want and was still not happy. I don’t think anyone besides her children could make her happy, no matter how much they tried. This film handled that aspect perfectly.

The technical aspects of the film were great. The camera work and cinematography were exceptional. The damp, cold British winter was very visible in the film. In a way, it parallels Diana’s own turmoil she’s dealing with regarding the fact that she’s never going to be good enough. She’s just a screw-up in the eyes of the royals, constantly making mistakes regarding when she’s supposed to arrive, what dress she’s supposed to wear, and so on. Also regarding the clothes and hairstyles, the film was spot on with all of that as well.

Spencer does a lot right including an Oscar-worthy performance by Stewart, an amazing heart-pounding score by Greenwood, exceptional camera work and cinematography, also costumes and hairstyles. The one thing that bothered me was how her eating disorder and anxiety/depression resulted in these dream sequences. It just didn’t seem realistic in the story. The three days were based on facts, I presume, so how would anybody know about this side of the story? It’s a minor quibble in an otherwise terrific film about this sick and damaged woman.

4 stars

Dan Skip Allen

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