#TIFF21: “SPENCER” REVIEW
By Amanda Gilmore
Kristen Stewart and Director Pablo Larraín do Princess Diana justice with Spencer.
It follows Diana over her final Christmas with the royal family. She arrives at the mansion willing to comply with the strenuous rules the family demand over the holidays. But as the long days and night tread on, Diana begins suffocating in the life she lives. Over the three days of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Diana decides to break free. The Filmmakers have stated this Film is a mix of history and speculation. This is further clarified with the opening title cards that read the film is “A Fable of a True Tragedy.”
Screenwriter Steven Knight refreshingly puts the focus on Diana instead of the royal family and gives a rounded look at the Princess of Wales. There are difficult to watch scenes of Diana binge eating, purging, and self-harming. These are matched with heartfelt intimate moments of Diana with her sons, showing the immense love and bond they shared.
Ever the master of atmosphere, Larraín covers the mansion in a thick, dense fog that envelopes the grounds like dread. Like his previous film Jackie, long tracking shots follow Diana walking or running. It’s here we see the depth of the physical change in stature and stride Stewart has made to embody Diana. One beautiful moment comes in a montage of tracks that pays homage to Diana’s love for dance. Additionally, his close-ups mirror the claustrophobia, horror and immense pressure Diana felt. Diana’s inner world is further highlighted by one of the best Scores of the year from Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood.
Yet, none of this would work if it wasn’t for Stewart. She embodies Diana while refreshingly making her, her own. She fully encapsulates the suffocation Diana felt, and expertly expresses both desire and fear in leaving. It’s truly one of the best performances of the year. She’s joined by Timothy Spall, who gives a textured performance as staff hired to keep an eye on Diana. And the charming Sally Hawkins, who plays a personal attendant to Diana, is delightful to watch. Particularly, in a scene towards the end, she shares with Stewart.
Overall, Spencer is a perfect balancing act of history and speculation, is impeccably shot, and showcases a top-tier performance from Stewart. Even if you take away the fact that it’s about Diana, this Film works as a story of a woman reclaiming control and agency over her life.
Spencer screens at TIFF ’21:
Wed, Sep 15 at 6 PM at Princess of Wales