Kristen Stewart Perfectly Embodies Diana in 'Spencer' Directed by Pablo Larraín
Starring Kristen Stewart, Sally Hawkins, Jack Farthing, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry
Published Nov 05, 2021Pablo Larraín's Spencer is a beautiful yet haunting portrayal of the late Princess Diana. The fictionalized biopic is punctuated with sadness as awareness of Diana's impending and untimely death haunts the film — which, although not depicted, occurred six years after the time shown here. In moments when she questions the legacy of being a queen and being on a currency note, that's when the audience silently grieves, knowing she will never get to see that day.
The film is seen through Diana's POV, taking the audience behind closed doors and imagining what the royal life and marriage might have been like for her. Spencer takes place over three days around Christmas 1991, at the Queen's annual holiday destination, Sandringham House. It is during this time that Diana decides to finally leave Charles after his affair.
Kristen Stewart takes on the heavy task of playing a 30-year-old Diana, who has been married to Charles (Jack Farthing) for 10 years. The movie shows how trapped and helpless Diana felt with the frustrating royal rules and traditions that had to be followed to a tee. She tries to rebel by wearing the designated outfits on different days and it gets her into trouble with her husband. With the help of the incredibly unsettling score by Jonny Greenwood, the audience taps into the palpable claustrophobia Diana experiences as she wanders in the narrow halls of the massive mansion and on the grounds at night, hoping for some sort of escape from the eyes on her at all times.
Instead of showing us the People's Princess, it's fascinating to see Diana simply as a woman stuck in a life she doesn't want, being told that she's just a currency. She admits to her close friend and servant Maggie (Sally Hawkins) that she likes Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera and fast food, and that there's no hope for her.
Stewart does an incredible job embodying Diana. As someone who watched all the Twilight films, she was always Bella Swan to me, so to see her disappear into the role of Diana speaks volumes about Stewart's abundant talent.
Not only does she nail Diana's accent and physical presence, but she also eloquently captures a woman who was depressed and suffered from bulimia and self-harm. Spencer offers a different perception – one that's fictionalized as a "fable from a true tragedy," as the opening title card says.
A particularly gripping scene is a dinner with the royal family in which, for the first time, the audience sees Diana's mental health struggles and her bulimia. It's an unnerving scene, filled with anxiety brought on by Stewart's performance and the fantastic score.
Diana's role as a mother comes across tenderly as she spends time with her sons William (Jack Nielen) and Harry (Freddie Spry). Stewart radiates the warmth and love that allowed Diana to capture hearts all around the world, yet wasn't able to warm the royal family, who here are depicted as icy cold.
British costume designer Jacqueline Durran, who previously won an Oscar for Little Women, is surely a frontrunner to win another for Spencer. The clothes capture the fragility and confidence of Diana, who was a fashion icon. Her suave Chanel suits and crisp shirts offered her a crutch to survive and hide from the paparazzi, the royals and the rest of the world.
The film's pacing is quite slow and focuses on the suffocating environment in the country home, and that could potentially deter some viewers. But for those who have a fondness for Lady Di, this will be right up their alley. Larraín wanted to capture the mystery that is Diana — and in many ways he did, while in other ways, she will forever remain a mystery to those who adored her from afar.
Given the number of movies, docs and TV specials about Diana that have already been made, Spencer is incredible achievement. Look out for this film next awards season – Stewart is very likely candidate for Best Actress. (Elevation)