Kristen Stewart electrifies as the Princess of Wales on the brink of divorce.
“Spencer” captures the emotional weight of Diana Spencer’s unhappy marriage to Prince Charles of Wales. The time period is 1991, and the place is the Sandringham Estate, where the royal family celebrates the Christmas season, as well as Boxing Day. This was during the time when rumors about the Prince having an affair was spreading about, and they were true, but the family tries to maintain peace.
Diana, exceptionally played by Kristen Stewart, is often late to dinner, because of how she struggles to grasp her current sad state. She imagines eating the pearls she has to wear at dinner, and constantly sees the ghost of Anne Boleyn, after a book about her is placed on her bed. I’m told this is a work of fiction and nonfiction, as we see and acknowledge what is going on through Diana’s mind. Written by Steven Knight in his best work since “Locke,” and directed by Pablo Larrain (“Jackie”), the movie is quite exceptional through its choice of realities and the choice Diana wishes to escape from.
The supporting actors in the movie also consist of Timothy Spall as a stern former military officer, who is assigned to keep the paparazzi away from the family, and whom Diana doesn’t connect well with. There’s also Sean Harris as the head chef, who provides his cooks a Wes Anderson-inspired rules on how to prepare the meals. Sally Hawkins is her dresser, and basically her only friend, who is sent home for leaving the curtains open, which was done by Diana, for the record. And Jack Farthing is Charles, while Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry are their two sons: William and Harry, respectively.
“Spencer” has a similar atmosphere with “Jackie,” as Pablo Larrain guides Stewart with an emotional and riveting vibe, like how he previously guided Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy recovering from her husband’s assassination. I saw this movie at the Chicago International Film Festival, and it took me awhile to grasp its narrative, considering the fact that it imagines what the Princess of Wales was thinking, but I was able to come through and see its true nature.
It would be repetitive for me to say how exceptional Stewart is, but I’ve heard that Variety mentioned how the people at the Venice Film Festival say she could up for an Oscar nomination. I think she should. In fact, this is her best work on film since “Personal Shopper.”
I should also give laud the supporting work from Hawkins, Spall, and Harris, because they help Stewart and Larrain carry the movie. They’re written and drawn with such complexity and moods, that you can easily see how they connect with the leading lady, and how their characters deal with the Princess of Wales. I won’t spoil anything for you, but the last 20 minutes between Stewart and Hawkins is utterly amazing.
About Diana being late for dinner, the best sequence comes when she decides to break into her abandoned old house, which really sets the haunting ambiance and tone of the movie. And speaking of haunting, the score, composed by Jonny Greenwood, sets the tension quite well. Not just for that scene, but for all the moments when Diana suffers in her mind.
“Diana” is a thought-provoking picture, and should be seen, not for how things were, but for how things could have been.
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