Review: Spencer (2021)

Spencer (2021)

Directed by: Pablo Larrain | 116 minutes | biography, drama | Actors: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, Stella Gonet, Richard Sammel, Elizabeth Berrington, Lore Stefanek, Amy Manson, Sally Hawkins, James Harkness, Laura Benson, Wendy Patterson, Libby Rodliffe, John Keogh, Marianne Graffam

With ‘Spencer’, Pablo Larraín (‘Jackie’, ‘No’, ‘The Club’) and Steven Knight (‘Dirty Pretty Things’, ‘Locke’) raise the bar as the Chilean director and British screenwriter have produced a biography which consciously does not run parallel to reality. Extracting the rule of thumb from an authentic biography creates a fascinating “fable of a true tragedy”. You can rightly call that a very difficult package, because that biography is about one of the most beloved celebrities in history: Princess Diana.

William and Harry are 9 and 7 years old when Diana is expected at the Sandringham House estate in 1991 to spend the Christmas season with her in-laws. Lost, the princess drives her striking Porsche through the desolate winter landscape of Norfolk, she is lost. A gloomy metaphor for her existence at the time, because she knows that this weekend will be anything but warm and familiar. The Rolls Royces are now driving back and forth with members of the royal family on board. The Queen’s pack of corgis are also delivered in style according to protocol.

In the kitchen, the culinary preparations continue with military precision and the newly appointed grand master waits restlessly on the platform, because Diana is too late. After all, Prince Charles is already here, but that will be the worst for Diana. She stops at a meadow and encounters Chef Darren (Sean Harris) on his way to the royals’ country retreat. In the distance stands her childhood home, marked by an old scarecrow on the lands in her family’s name.

Knowing that she is late -and which she will not be thanked-, she calmly but determinedly steps over the fence and runs in high heels across the field to the scarecrow. On the old doll hangs her father’s red wax coat in faded glory. She takes it as a sign of sentimental paternal support in an unpleasant three-day reunion with her loveless husband and his authoritarian adamant family. An additional low point is the mandatory weigh-in before the weekend starts. Gaining at least two kilos is a must for this typically British joke, but not for the bulimia-suffered princess.

During the weekend Diana immerses herself in a book about Anna Boleyn. Henry VIII’s second wife visibly intrigues her. She realizes how poignant their similarities are. Adultery, treason and total self-sacrifice should be tolerated for the sake of the crown. Her only bright spot is being with her two sons and dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins). The latter is the only member of the household who treats her like a vulnerable, normal person. Diana also has a strange, but human-like bond of trust with Chef Darren. And she so needed it.

Los Angeles-born actress Kristen Stewart turns herself inside out and her study of Diana’s thinking, speech, facial expression and motor skills is nothing short of breathtaking. Not to mention the iconic styling and fantastic costumes. It is clear that ‘Spencer’ is Oscar-worthy in several facets. Like the wandering storyline through the corridors of Sandringham House, the music gets under the skin and fits perfectly with the awkwardness and suffocating moments. The soundtrack has been specially composed by Jonny Greenwood, with careful attention to the avant-garde jazz of Miles Davis from the 80s and the minimalism of composer Max Richter. He has previously been nominated for an Oscar for his work.

Interspersed with snatches of beautifully imagined fantasy, all-consuming metaphors and as a portrait of a woman who loses control over her identity and body, ‘Spencer’ cannot easily be placed in the genre of biography. The story contains multiple layers including that of a psychological thriller, psychotic horror, light satire and a heartwarming love story between a mother and her children. On top of that, The Princess of Wales was a woman who turned out to be too spiritually strong and rebellious to conform to the regime of the British Royal Family and she would smile all the way knowing she is remembered as such today.

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