Time: 117 Minutes
Age Rating: Offensive language & self harm references
Kristen Stewart as Diana
Timothy Spall as Alistair Gregory
Jack Farthing as Charles
Sean Harris as Darren McGrady
Sally Hawkins as Maggie
Director: Pablo Larraín
The marriage between Princess Diana and Prince Charles has long since grown cold. Though rumors of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the queen’s estate. There’s eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game, but this year, things will be profoundly different.
Spencer was a movie I had been anticipating for a little while. It’s a movie about Princess Diana, starring Kristen Stewart in the lead role, and most of all it has the director of Jackie. So I was intrigued to see how it would turn out, especially with all the acclaim it has been receiving leading up to its release. It didn’t disappoint, I really liked Spencer and think it’s one of the best of the year.
Much like Jackie, Spencer is not a conventional biopic by any means, and I’m so glad that this is the case. It doesn’t feel tired or cliched like a lot of other biopics, and I was captivated throughout. The movie is set over the Christmas period in 1991, taking place over a few days. As a result, it feels like it wasn’t progressing anywhere necessarily, but I was nonetheless invested in it. I won’t talk about the accuracy to real life because I’m not an expert on Diana, but I can say that it is definitely more a character study than biopic. It does a great job at diving into the personal life of Princess Diana and makes us see her life from her eyes. This character piece focuses on Diana’s sadness, anxiety and struggles as she has to change to fit in with the royals while haunted by her past and future. Much of the movie feels like a horror movie sometimes, and it is effectively unsettling. Spencer does a great job at making the audience just as uneasy as her, especially with the tense and uneasy atmosphere. It definitely leans into being more psychological compared to Jackie, there are even hallucinatory elements, from a direct metaphor between Diana and Anne Boleyn which has the former imagine seeing the latter, to Diana literally imagining herself eating her pearl necklace. It thought it worked for the type of movie that it was going for.
Whether or not her character in the film is accurate to the real person, Kristen Stewart disappears into the role of Princess Diana and delivers a powerhouse performance. She does incredibly well at portraying a princess forced to live in a family that doesn’t want her and really conveys her pain and anxiety. Stewart definitely places emphasis on the subtlety and leans into the overall feel of Diana rather than pure impersonation, which is definitely for the best (especially when looking at performances of other widely known real people). Nonetheless, she nails the voice, mannerisms and expressions, and gives an eloquent performance. It’s the best acting work I’ve seen from her so far. There are some other really good supporting performances from Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall and Sean Harris, however it’s a film very much focused on Stewart as Diana.
Pablo Larrain directs Spencer incredibly well, which was to be expected after watching Jackie. There is a lot of incredibly visual storytelling on display in this film. Claire Mathon’s cinematography is gloomy and hazy, and helps convey a feeling of claustrophobia, creating a layers of anxiety, ambiguity and paranoia. It all works to make us feel the pressures of the lead character. The production and costume design are also on point and are perfect for the period. Another thing constantly present throughout the film is Jonny Greenwood’s jazzy and intense score, which perfectly captures the tone of the film.
Despite being a Princess Diana biopic, Spencer is definitely not for everyone. On top of definitely being a character piece over a conventional straightforward biopic, it is slow moving and definitely not what some might expect going into it. However I loved it, incredibly well crafted, its directed well, and Kristen Stewart gives one of the best performances from the past year. It’s one of the best movies from 2021.