Filled with a lyrical dreaming and haunting psychological atmosphere, Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is a moving and atmospheric character study of one of the world’s most famous women, Diana, Princess of Wales and it is presented to audiences with perfect attention to detail.
The marriage between Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) and Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) has long since grown cold. Though rumours of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the queen’s estate. There’s eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game, but this year, things will be profoundly different.
From the moment the lights of the cinema go down a jumble of words crosses the screen of the cinema, ‘a fable based on a true tragedy’, these are the words that proceed the presentation of Spencer, Pablo Larraín’s haunting and dreamlike portrait of Diana, Princess of Wales. And this is a film that very much presents the unexpected. A taut psychological drama that focuses on Diana’s mental state as she visits with the royal family at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate for Christmas 1991 amidst growing media pressure, marriage troubles and uncertainty about her future. As he is prone to do, Larraín presents a story that is told through expression and performance over dialogue and the result is a piece of cinema that is pure artistic expression.
Set across three days, Spencer is a taut and intense psychological drama that focuses on Diana’s failing mental state and the pressures that fall on her as a member of the Royal Family. Bound by tradition and expectation, and intense media scrutiny as the most famous woman in the world, the Diana of Spencer is a woman without any sense of personal freedom or space and it’s getting to be too much for her to bear with. Larraín gets into the mindscape of Diana who day by day is becoming mentally broken and chipped due to expectations that surround her and the never-ending traditions that she must adhere to as a member of the Royal Family. This is where Larraín builds much of his tension within the picture and he carves out some particularly uncomfortable moments in the film to showcase her deteriorating mental state.
As a cinematic presentation, Spencer is utterly gorgeous to look upon. Shot with a soft and hazy style by cinematographer Claire Mathon, Spencer plays out like some kind of fairytale painting up on the big screen. There’s a softness to the images and a dynamic almost pastel colour palette is juxtaposed against the warm ambers and rich greens of the Sandringham Estate. Spencer is lucid in its approach to its imagery and Mathon’s work pulls you deeper into this intimate portrait of Diana. Paired with the haunting, vaulted soundtrack of Jonny Greenwood, guitarist and keyboardist of Radiohead, both image and sound work together to amplify the tension that mounts around the film’s events.
Cast in the lead role of Diana, Princess of Wales is Kristen Stewart and she’s a complete revelation in the part. Committing herself to the role, Stewart transforms into Diana and presents a portrait of the princess at the most fragile part of her life as the world slowly falls in around her. As the most famous woman in the world, Stewart’s Diana is under intense media scrutiny due to her crumbling marriage and she cannot escape the expectations that surround her as a member of the Royal Household. Every aspect of her life is pre-planned and controlled for here. From the coordinated dresses and outfits that she must wear at specific times for specific events to the rigorous schedule she must follow in the Queen’s company. She is seeming without freedom and this is crushing her from the inside out.
Stewart holds nothing back in her appearance as Diana and her performance is shaped through dramatic expression over dialogue. Through this largely unspoken role, we see the mental turmoil that she is facing and how a system of pure tradition is grinding her down in a very modern world. Her one joy in life is her children who she lavishes and it’s in these few comfortable moments where she finds solace. In Spencer, Stewart is able to express Diana as princess, mother, fashion icon and woman and she goes through quite a journey as this true-life character over the events of the film. Physically she transforms into the part and looks very proper in her Chanel wardrobe that fits her effortlessly and marks her out as a very modern woman in an old estate. The role of Princess Diana is an extremely brave one for Stewart to take on and she does Diana justice in her performance by staying true to her emotions and feelings and the happiness that she eventually finds.
Spencer is a film of dreamlike beauty and intimate character study of its chosen subject matter. It’s made with close attention to detail and is a presentation of grand scale and intense drama that rewards its audience with a uniquely presented story that is certain to stay with them.
Image: Roadshow Films