Spencer: Film Review

STX

When it was announced that Kristen Stewart would be playing Princess Diana in a film, I couldn’t wrap my head around it and I found it the most bizarre casting decision, but I felt more confident when she won rave reviews at Venice. I fully expected and wanted to like Spencer but I’m not sold on it at all.

Pablo Larrain‘s film is a self-described fable that imagines what might have happened to Princess Diana when she had to spend three days over Christmas with the royal family on the Sandringham Estate in the early ’90s. Although it’s set a few years before she split from Prince Charles (Jack Farthing), their marriage has already gone cold and getting through those three days is something of an endurance test.

As a huge fan of Stewart, I really want to like Spencer and I went in believing that I would, based on all the positive sentiments I’ve read, but I’ve found myself in the minority of people who are less effusive about it. The film is weirder than I thought it would be, with odd fantastical dream sequences featuring Anne Boleyn and Diana eating a soup containing pearls, among others. I appreciate that these are designed to illustrate her depressed state and her spiralling mental health but they are still rather bizarre. I also thought Steven Knight‘s script was quite weak and the dialogue could have been better, and the pacing was off; I felt my attention starting to drift as the story didn’t capture me as it should have.

Perhaps this is because not much happens. Spencer is an intimate portrait that explores Diana’s psychological state and is mostly concerned with trying to show us how she felt on the inside. At the forefront are Diana’s eating disorder and little acts of rebellion, such as wearing her Christmas outfits in the wrong order, refusing to go down for dinner on time or arriving at the estate after the Queen (Stella Gonet). She clearly doesn’t want to be there, can’t stand all the rules and the lack of freedom she has and no longer wants to be part of that family. The focus is on her sadness and torment but my favourite scenes were when she was having fun; dancing, playing games with her sons and singing with them in the car.

The film’s biggest strength is Stewart’s captivating performance, which is far better than I ever would’ve guessed when her casting was first announced. She gives an impressive portrayal of someone who is desperately unhappy and trapped, but I never fully believed her as Diana. I always felt like I was watching a performance; she didn’t become Diana for me. I thought I would eventually get into it and forget that I was watching Stewart as Diana, but I never did. I kept thinking about her accent and deciding whether she sounded like the royal. She did very well in places but it wasn’t consistent, although I should note that she always sounded posh British.

When it came to the supporting cast, it was hard not to compare them to the stellar choices on The Crown, which is why non-royal characters such as Diana’s dresser and confidante Maggie (Sally Hawkins), the Queen’s equerry Alistair (Timothy Spall), and head chef Darren (Sean Harris) came across better. Farthing has surprisingly little to do as Charles – besides one scene in which they have a one-on-one conversation, they have little interaction and he’s mostly on the periphery and hardly speaks. I guess that’s the whole point – that they’re barely husband and wife anymore – but I would have liked him to have more of a presence.  

Spencer is an intriguing character study that examines the mental health of a very famous figure. The score by Jonny Greenwood is unexpected but beautiful and the costume design is stunning. I wish I liked it more but I have to put my hands up and admit I didn’t.

In cinemas from Friday 5th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Spencer: LFF Film Review

Courtesy of STX

When it was announced that Kristen Stewart would be playing Princess Diana in a film, I couldn’t wrap my head around it and I found it the most bizarre casting decision, but I felt more confident when she won rave reviews at Venice. I fully expected and wanted to like Spencer but I’m not sold on it at all.

Pablo Larrain‘s film is a self-described fable that imagines what might have happened to Princess Diana when she had to spend three days over Christmas with the royal family on the Sandringham Estate in the early ’90s. Although it’s set a few years before she split from Prince Charles (Jack Farthing), their marriage has already gone cold and getting through those three days is something of an endurance test.

As a huge fan of Stewart, I really want to like Spencer and I went in believing that I would, based on all the positive sentiments I’ve read, but I’ve found myself in the minority of people who are less effusive about it. The film is weirder than I thought it would be, with odd fantastical dream sequences featuring Anne Boleyn and Diana eating a soup containing pearls, among others. I appreciate that these are designed to illustrate her depressed state and her spiralling mental health but they are still rather bizarre. I also thought Steven Knight‘s script was quite weak and the dialogue could have been better, and the pacing was off; I felt my attention starting to drift as the story didn’t capture me as it should have.

Perhaps this is because not much happens. Spencer is an intimate portrait that explores Diana’s psychological state and is mostly concerned with trying to show us how she felt on the inside. At the forefront are Diana’s eating disorder and little acts of rebellion, such as wearing her Christmas outfits in the wrong order, refusing to go down for dinner on time or arriving at the estate after the Queen (Stella Gonet). She clearly doesn’t want to be there, can’t stand all the rules and the lack of freedom she has and no longer wants to be part of that family. The focus is on her sadness and torment but my favourite scenes were when she was having fun; dancing, playing games with her sons and singing with them in the car.

The film’s biggest strength is Stewart’s captivating performance, which is far better than I ever would’ve guessed when her casting was first announced. She gives an impressive portrayal of someone who is desperately unhappy and trapped, but I never fully believed her as Diana. I always felt like I was watching a performance; she didn’t become Diana for me. I thought I would eventually get into it and forget that I was watching Stewart as Diana, but I never did. I kept thinking about her accent and deciding whether she sounded like the royal. She did very well in places but it wasn’t consistent, although I should note that she always sounded posh British.

When it came to the supporting cast, it was hard not to compare them to the stellar choices on The Crown, which is why non-royal characters such as Diana’s dresser and confidante Maggie (Sally Hawkins), the Queen’s equerry Alistair (Timothy Spall), and head chef Darren (Sean Harris) came across better. Farthing has surprisingly little to do as Charles – besides one scene in which they have a one-on-one conversation, they have little interaction and he’s mostly on the periphery and hardly speaks. I guess that’s the whole point – that they’re barely husband and wife anymore – but I would have liked him to have more of a presence.  

Spencer is an intriguing character study that examines the mental health of a very famous figure. The score by Jonny Greenwood is unexpected but beautiful and the costume design is stunning. I wish I liked it more but I have to put my hands up and admit I didn’t.

Showing as part of the London Film Festival. In cinemas from Friday 5th November

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Happiest Season: Film Review

Happiest Season

Feeling in the mood for a fun, lovely, delightful Christmas movie? Then look no further than Happiest Season.

Clea DuVall‘s film stars Kristen Stewart as Abby and Mackenzie Davis as her girlfriend Harper, who invites her home for the holidays for the first time. What seems like a big step in their relationship is soon crushed with the revelation that Harper is still in the closet and she needs them to pretend to be straight roommates during the five-day visit.

This is the first major studio-backed same-sex festive film, as Christmas movies are largely dominated by white straight characters. It shouldn’t be such a historic, pivotal moment for representation in 2020 but it is – and what makes it even more exciting is that it is a traditional, conventional romcom – it has all the hallmarks of ‘meet the parents’ and ‘going home for the holidays’ films – but it just happens to star a lesbian couple.

Romantic comedy is a genre I’ve always embraced but the heyday of quality ones seems to have been and gone. Happiest Season gives me hope because it’s well-written, there are great characters and relationships, and the ensemble cast is terrific. However, it does suffer from the chronic romcom issue of being predictable, but that’s fine because we came here for warm fuzzy festive feelings. Also, there weren’t enough laugh-out-loud moments. It was always entertaining, captivating, and amusing (and occasionally moving) but I really wanted a hearty laugh and didn’t get that. It’s also tied up a bit too neatly at the end but I can forgive that too.

The cast is the film’s biggest strength. I love Stewart in absolutely everything so me enjoying her performance here is a given, but she brought great warmth and heart to the role and I liked seeing her in this type of film. She had convincing chemistry with Davis, an actress I adore.

The stars of the show are in the supporting cast though – first up is Dan Levy as Abby’s gay best friend John. He was fabulous, so much fun, made me smile the most, and has the most moving moment in the movie – his monologue is powerful and I imagine gay viewers will relate to it very well. Secondly, I loved Aubrey Plaza as Riley, who has a history with Harper. She’s a lifeline for Abby when she’s in need of normality outside of the highly-strung, perfectionist family and I liked that friendship. Then there’s Mary Holland, who co-wrote the movie with DuVall. She shines as the oddball weirdo Jane, who just wants to be noticed as the constantly overlooked middle child. The ensemble cast is rounded out by Alison Brie as the bitchy sister Sloane (we’ve seen Brie in this role before), and Mary Steenburgen and Victor Garber as Harper’s parents.

Happiest Season isn’t perfect but it gave me pretty much what I wanted from a festive romcom this year. It’s an absolute delight and I’ll happily watch it again.

Released on digital platforms such as Amazon Prime and iTunes on Thursday 26th November. Available on Sky Cinema and Now TV from 18 December.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Top Films for February

We’re now in a new month which means it’s time for my monthly movie preview.

[Read more…]

Seberg: Film Review

I was really impressed by Kristen Stewart‘s performance in Seberg when I saw its premiere at the Venice Film Festival so it’s such a shame this film seems to have been forgotten about already.

[Read more…]

Why I love the original Charlie’s Angels films

To prepare for the release of the latest Charlie’s Angels film (see review here), I decided to rewatch the previous two starring Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore. It wasn’t really necessary as I know them so well I can quote many lines but it was an excuse to watch two movies that I love so much. And why I am such a big fan, you ask? Let me count the ways.

[Read more…]

Charlie’s Angels: Film Review

I cannot overstate how much I love the original Charlie’s Angels films starring Cameron Diaz (I miss her), Lucy Liu and Drew Barrymore. I have seen them countless times, have them on DVD and can quote them a fair bit. I don’t feel the world is really ready for a new instalment in the franchise but this one still deserves a chance.

[Read more…]

Top films for November

It’s the start of November which means it’s once again time to look ahead to the cinema releases I’m most excited about. We’re being well and truly spoiled this bumper month!

[Read more…]

What I saw at the 2019 Venice Film Festival

Unless you have been living in a cave, you will know that I attended the 2019 Venice Film Festival in Italy last week. Sadly, I couldn’t afford to do the whole thing so I am now back in the UK and have finally caught up with my reviews.

[Read more…]

Seberg: Venice Film Review

Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

Kristen Stewart is having a really great run at the moment, isn’t she? Well, I can assure this continues with Seberg, in which she is on fine form once again.

[Read more…]