a haunting story of what could have been
Hauntingly beautiful from start to finish, Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is a dark fairy tale about a tragic princess that very few people knew. Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of Princess Diana is both heartbreaking and fascinating, and will undoubtedly remain a highlight of her already accomplished career.
So much tradition has surrounded the life and death of Diana, Princess of Wales over the past two and a half decades, it is almost difficult to follow. The Princess has been played by dozens of actresses over the years, with varying degrees of success and fanfare, and her tragic story is one that many of us have entrenched in our brains. Spencer is not that story.
I wholeheartedly congratulate Pablo Larraín for not regurgitating the same tearful tale that we have been fed time and time again. Instead, Spencer is a unique, dark and haunting fairy tale; a reflection on what could have been. Through the use of wide and expansive shots and an always dark aesthetic, Larraín creates an atmosphere that is both fantastic and eerie. The story is not true and does not claim to be. The film begins with a precursor that lets viewers know that what they’re about to watch is a fantasy based on “real tragedy,” and what follows is Kristen Stewart portraying a version of the beloved princess. which is nothing like what we have ever seen. Already seen.
In Spencer, Stewart is cemented as star audiences knew from childhood, with the imposing on-screen presence we saw in performances such as Panic Room in 2002. As Diana, any uncertainty as to talent or Stewart’s ability is firmly shattered. Her wistful, melancholy take on The People’s Princess is her strongest performance yet, and watching her version of Diana slowly lose her grip on reality in this emotional drama is simply mesmerizing.
Just as Stewart is Spencer’s star, the film’s soundtrack serves him solidly as a co-star. Composed by Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood, the breathtaking score helps carry every scene; to take the film effortlessly from melancholy to melodramatic, sometimes even nightmare. It is simply breathtaking, and in a theater it creates an experience that borders on bewitchment.
The supporting cast does exactly what it needs: exists as an audience for Diana’s inner turmoil as she seethes on the surface, and reacts to it in a way that makes her increasingly suspicious and desperate to to free itself from its royal constraints. Sally Hawkins stands out in her supportive role as close friend and assistant, Maggie. Timothy Spall is extraordinary as the Major who has been put in charge of keeping the Princess closely watched – and whose real motives keep you guessing until the end.
Spencer really isn’t a biopic, and that’s exactly what makes the movie so memorable. With the endearing lead role of Stewart and Larraín’s ability to create an environment that is both beautiful and eerie, Spencer is without doubt one of the best films of 2021.