Diana, Princess of Wales is the subject of Pablo Larrain’s latest biographical fable which is as horrifying as it is breathtaking. Spencer is an ethereal experience mixing harsh reality with sharp moments of surrealism to try and dig deep into Diana’s psyche surrounding the events of her split with Charles. Along with a career defining performance from Kristen Stewart, Spencer promises to be one of the films of the year, and a hot contender for awards season.
Written by Alex Gislton
As with his 2016 moment in time biopic Jackie, Larrain turned his attention from one powerful legendary woman to another, Princess Diana. Set at Sandringham, over three days, during Christmas 1992, Spencer chronicles the royal family's festivities through the eyes of Diana herself, who from the first minutes of the film is painted to be an outcast. Between the extravagant dinners and the outdated traditions we see Diana contending for her own survival in a territory that feels anything like home. Like its honorary predecessor, Spencer isn’t tied to a biopics usual set in stone cradle to grave story and the minute length of time we spend with her gives us a microscopic focus that general biopics wouldn’t.
Steven Knight’s script is about as subtle as a brick through a window, but fables rarely are so, it ends up being just as engaging as it needs to be. Spencer, rightfully, doesn’t shy away from the reality of Diana’s situation and deals with her mental state in a way that never comes across as insensitive. As it deteriorates throughout the film the photography becomes more claustrophobic and the score crashes ever louder. Everything at Sandringham to Princess Diana is alien apart from her two children, who are the only source of warmth for her compared to the rest of the royal family’s presence in this film, which is almost non-existent, and when Diana is in the same room as them they are often out of focus.
Claire Mathon shoots the film precisely. She makes Sandringham, which should feel homely, look overwhelmingly haunting. A film like Spencer which, purposely, has a complete lack of warmth and colour in moments, shouldn’t look as beautiful as it does and that's a testament to the talent of Mathon who presents us with a work of art that is tantalizing for the eyes. Jonny Greenwood’s score is pitch perfect, in the moments that it needs to be it’s incredibly unsettling, and when it’s not it lavishes around its main subject like a fur coat. The costume design is faithful to Princess Diana’s elegance and every outfit that Kristen Stewart wears is essentially its own character telling its own story.
Kristen Stewart embodies Princess Diana from the moment we see her on screen, from the walk and the gestures all the way to the accent. Stewart takes the performance through peaks and valleys with ease, she is loud and bombastic, and she also nails down the scenes that have little to no dialogue. She is at her most impressive however when she shares the screen with Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry, who play William and Harry respectively. The chemistry between these three burns as bright as the candles that serve as the lighting in one of films most heartwarming scenes. If she hasn’t already, Kristen Stewart should be drafting up an Oscar acceptance speech.
To make a film about such a historic icon is always going to be a risk but Pablo Larrain pulls it off ten fold. When it isn’t a haunting tale of isolation and mental struggles, it's a rapturous ode to motherhood and freedom, with its success owed to a true collaborative effort, Larrain’s direction, Knight’s script, Stewart's acting, Mathon’s cinematography, Greenwood’s score and all of the costume and production design. Whether you’re a fan of Pablo Larrain’s work, or Kristen Stewart’s or if you are in any way interested in Princess Diana, Spencer is a must, must, must watch.