LFF Review: Spencer

LFF Review of Spencer starring Kristen Stewart, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, Sally Hawkins and Timothy Spall

DIRECTED BY

Pablo Larraín

STARRING

Kristen Stewart, Jack Farthing, Olga Hellsing, Sean Harris, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall, Thomas Douglas, Amy Manson, Ryan Wichert, Richard Sammel, John Keogh, Niklas Kohrt, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry and Stella Gonet

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SYNOPSIS

During her Christmas holidays with the royal family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, Diana decides to leave her marriage to Prince Charles.

Film Review - Spencer - Kristen Stewart and Sally Hawkins

The marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles has long since grown cold. Though rumours of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate. There’s eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game. But this year, things will be profoundly different.

Film Review - Spencer - Kristen Stewart as Diana, Princess of Wales

Spencer is directed by Pablo Larraín and written by Steven Knight. Set in the early 90’s, the story focuses on Princess Diana making her way to the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, for the Royal families Christmas festivities. However the atmosphere doesn’t feel cheerful nor festive. Diana is aware of her husband’s infidelity and tries to put on a brave face. But when she arrives and meets equerry Major Alistair Gregory, who’s the hear all and see all for the Queen, Diana begins to feel the weight of every stare and glare from the Royals and proceeds to examine her true self again, no matter how draining the weekend may be.

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When Larrain’s film opens with the text, “A fable from a true tragedy”, you should then become mentally prepared to watch a fictionalised retelling of a pivotal moment in Diana’s life when she wanted a separation from Prince Charles. How he gets there is through Knight’s screenplay of lost identity and crippling anxiety of feeling completely shut-out from the rest of the world and how she begins to believe in how her life feels in comparison to that of Anne Boleyn, which leads to some interesting scenes that feel out-of-place for some viewers, but in context I thought those scenes worked out very well. There is some scenes that work out really well here to put the viewer in Diana’s shoes in showcasing just how caged she really is, even to the point that she cannot even go beyond the wall to visit her childhood home without being caught in the act and then have the incident be reported to the equerry. It’s a testament to Larrain’s direction that when Diana feels anxious and uncomfortable, so to does the audience, but in the midst of darkness there is warmth to be found in scenes focusing on Diana spending time with her sons William and Harry.

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While I definitely felt immersed in the film, I myself was still initially jarred by the first dream sequence (as were some members in attendance of the screening I was at but I think it’s because the first one felt like it came from left-field) but I accepted from that moment on. The film is gorgeously shot by cinematographer Claire Mathon, with some really wonderful costume designs by Jacqueline Durran, they will certainly be reaping the accolades come awards season, as will composer Jonny Greenwood for his score really haunts you through this film. There has certainly been a lot of anticipation for the film when it was confirmed that Kristen Stewart would be playing Diana and, for this film, I thought she gave a fantastic performance, arguably one of her best to date so far, though whether she feels like Princess Diana will depend on the viewer. One actor who might be a dark horse come awards season is Timothy Spall as equerry Major Alistair Gregory, whose duty it seems is to report everything that Diana does directly to the Queen, but it’s in his interactions with Diana that we feel that there’s something more at play. Other members of the cast who give good, solid performances are Sean Harris as Darren McGrady, the Royal Head Chef who provides a sympathising ear to Diana’s woes but echoes caution, while Sally Hawkins is ever-reliably good as Maggie, the Royal Dresser and Diana’s confidant.

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VERDICT

This drama provided more psychological horror than can be found in some psychological horrors. Spencer is an immersive experience following an individual’s torment and trying to find a way to overcome it. Kristen Stewart gives a fantastic performance and will be in contention come awards season, as will Larrain, Mathon, Durran and Greenwood, for work in their categories.

★★★★