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.

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