Spencer (12A) Review - A tale filled with Suspence(r)

A quintessential part of British culture, the story of Princess Diana is one covered time and time again. But does this latest entry do enough to stand out against the crowd?

Isabel Ellis
23rd November 2021
Credit: IMDb
Described from the get-go as a “fable taken from a true tragedy”, Spencer emphasises something that needs to be remembered when watching this: it’s not meant to be a retelling of Diana’s 1991 Christmas at Sandringham.

What director Pablo Larraín and Kirsten Stewart achieved is an intoxicating symphony of lyricisms and tragedy

Many critics have jumped on the bandwagon of critiquing the fact that the story is over stylised, and that the narrative is not a true reflection of what Diana was like and how she was treated. It's hard to pinpoint the exact genre of Spencer which is why such criticisms feel in poor taste. While there were many aspects of the film that did fit in the realm of the historical drama, I felt that was never the main focus. The film was psychologically thrilling with points where it fell into the horror genre with rather chilling and unsettling aspects. I will admit, it creeped me out.

Kirsten Stewart as Princess Diana, Credit: IMDb

Chilean director Pablo Larraín has truly paved the way with biopic movies after his hit success Jackie in 2016, and he’s now decided to swim over the pond and tell the tale of the UK’s tragic pride and joy. The story centrally trails Diana and her psychological state - with dribs and drabs of appearances from the likes of Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) and The Queen (Stella Gonnet). The film really did a great job of pushing the other Royals aside and focusing on Diana as the main character.

When the trailer first dropped, I won’t lie, I was surprised and a little disappointed to see Twilight (2008) star Kristen Stewart in the starring role of Princess Di. My first thought was why would they choose an American to portray ‘the people’s princess’? But 5 minutes in I found myself corrected and was utterly lost in the story and genuinely believed Stewart was Princess Diana. Her accent was quintessentially English, and she really grasped Diana’s quirks and qualms. Diana’s erratic behaviour throughout the film made for an extremely compelling tale, with the inclusion of eating disorders and spiritual encounters making the mystical narrative a great base for the previously untold Christmas tale.

Jack Farthing and Kirsten Stewart in Spencer, Credit: IMDb

I myself have had much experience in watching Diana related tales, and know that many fall into the trap of being overly sympathetic to her as a result of her tragic death in 1997.

However, with this being not a biopic, it did a great job at seeing the hardships she faced within the monarchy, but as an audience, we also saw her annoying sides and at times, I found her actions quite sporadic and irritating. Her character was rude and obnoxious taking on an angle of Diana that I have never seen portrayed before. The account of her seems honest and raw; you really get down to the roots of her mental health, as she wrestles with not being able to reveal her true self and being brutally aware of her husband’s seemingly public affair.

Overall, I did question why the narrative needed to be focused on Diana’s life if many of the events did not truly happen and were heavily fictionalised. Taking away the glamour of the Royal Family, this was truly a tale of tragedy and psychological turmoil and could have easily still been as compelling without the flashy and controversial background of the Royals. However, what Larraín and Stewart achieved was an untold story with an intoxicating symphony of lyricisms and tragedy.

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