Comments Off on Spencer

Pablo Larraín’s film Spencer (2021) is a fictionalized account of Princess Diana’s (Kristen Stewart) Christmas with the royal family in 1991. Larraín’s film is a classic character study that charts Princess Diana’s own subjective experiences with mental illness via expressionistic sequences featuring Anne Boleyn (Amy Manson). The specter of Boleyn, the atmosphere of imprisonment both mentally and physically on the Sandringham Estate, along with Jonny Greenwood’s affecting score ground the film in a quasi-Gothic tradition.

On the surface all of this appears to work in Pablo Larraín’s favor. However the persistence of Boleyn’s likeness appearing in visions coupled with Diana’s ravings and Equerry Major Alistair Gregory’s (Timothy Spall) coy placement of a biography of Boleyn on Diana’s bedside table plays as too heavy handed. Larraín broadcasts the connections between these two historical figures so loudly that it becomes deafening. By the end of Spencer this little device has taken on Brechtian proportions and serves only as a reminder that all that is being shown is artifice.

In addition, Larraín doesn’t seem to have been able to determine how to end his otherwise beautiful little film. First there is the compelling montage of visions and memories that keep Princess Diana from throwing herself down a flight of stairs; then there is a scene in which the Princess runs out into a quail hunt to collect her children after which another scene occurs where Diana and her Princely sons pile into her car and drive off into the sunset. But wait, there is yet another final moment where mother and sons drive to London singing along to the radio in a kind of Disney inspired euphoria. After all of this Larraín ends Spencer with Diana eating KFC with her sons, staring blankly into the distance. The rapid tonal and aesthetic shifts that conclude Spencer are baffling and totally undermine Stewart’s work in the role of Princess Diana.

In Kristen Stewart’s last biographical role, Seberg (2019), the actress was cast adrift in a film that didn’t know what to make of Jean Seberg, the sixties, or the Black Panthers. In the case of Spencer it feels as though the filmmakers are so overcome by the power of Stewart’s performance that they have conspired to dilute its impact. Weak accent work aside, Stewart might just give the performance of her career in Spencer.

Spencer was much better and much more affectively stylized than I had expected. Though the film has a plethora of faults, it is still a superior effort in the genre of the film biography. Hopefully Larraín continues to mine this fertile ground and deliver the masterpiece that is suggested here.