October 27, 2021

CINEMA | Kristen Stewart Haunts the Ghosts of 'Spencer'

"They can't change. You have to change."
Kristen Stewart Pablo Larraín | Spencer
Neon / Elevation Pictures
Chilean filmmaker and Jackie director Pablo Larraín gives a similar stylized cinematic treatment to another historical female figure from the twentieth century in his surrealist dramatization of another moment in time. Spencer stars a formidable Kristen Stewart, who is absolutely devastating, in her portrayal of the late Princess Diana struggling as her life and marriage to Prince Charles is crumbling.

Filmed with moments of slow burn horror as part claustrophobic ghost story and part Greek tragedy, the chilling tale takes unknowable, rigid real-life characters of recent history and turns them into mythic figures as told through a very specific lens. Set over the three days in 1991 from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day at Sandringham Estate right before Diana and Charles (a smarmy Jack Farthing) split, we see the slowly boiling turmoil of the Princess over the slow destruction of both her public and private lives.

Screenwriter Steven Knight makes sure to layer unnerving character details throughout the unconventional drama to give of her a haunting sense of interiority. Stewart is nothing short of sensational in how she embodies our memories of Diana while also personifying her demons with such careful empathy. Her chilly relationships described frequently as "currency" with the royal family, staff, and public feel so fully realized and lived-in.

Diana struggled with her acts of rebellion as Larraín dramatizes her transformation from a reluctant puppet to an independent actor. Everyone else is a background player apart from Charles, William, and Harry. Her anxieties are on full display as she tries to deflect harsh criticism and interference from her scattered behaviour in the face of the demanding expectations thrust upon her.

Told as a sort of psychological tragic fable, Spencer mythologizes Diana and the British royal family in a haunting portrait of British aristocracy. Its inventive summary of her life through an iconoclastic sheen seems fitting as we get an artistic interpretation of her journey as the "People's Princess". The film feels an ambitious chamber piece of historical cinematic lore.

More | YVArcade / AV Club / Indiewire / Polygon

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