Spencer ★★★★½

I admit to spending a bit of time recalibrating my own personal expectation-o-meter. After a gorgeous and haunting pre-credit sequence--stunning photography and music--SPENCER walked me down a path that was pretty far removed from the biopic type of film or the Peter-Morgan-royals-writing that I was planning for in a film about Diana. What SPENCER gives is a haunting, heavy portrait of mental health struggles for someone completely lacking in supports. It's sad, stirring, and affecting because there's a human soul at the core, and one who is suffering deeply. All the riches, privilege, and celebrity are in the periphery, of course, and they make this tale familiar and provide intriguing spectacle and setting. However, the uniqueness of SPENCER lies in the fact that the story is willing to zoom in on one pixel within the great story of British Royalty Establishment: Diana. The pomp, pageantry, and bright shiny lore of royal life are all about, but the film singularly cares about its protagonist's decision-making capacity, her welfare, and her identity within the melting pot of her in-law's family culture. The Queen, Charles, and others briefly drift in and out of Diana's physical space. However, the film moreso likens the Royals to an enormous pressure--not unlike what a diver feels, the deeper and darker the descent.

Kristen Stewart is as fantastic as the early reviews indicate. Her performance, though, is really just tacking on sophistication and human soul to the acumen of an already solid script. Her performance relies a little less on likeness than did recent 'Lady Di' performances by Naomi Watts and Emma Corrin, and she seems to nail the desperation as much as she does the familiar mannerisms.

However, Pablo Larrain's objective--and it's a noble and valuable one--is to pull the camera down from the light of the chandelier to focus on the dimming light in one's spirit. The world of the Royals is all around Diana, but this journey is one to find identity and comradeship. SPENCER doesn't latch onto a particularly notable historic event. In part the platform of a routine holiday retreat as opposed to a notable historic soiree is more strangling because Diana can't even be herself or find refuge in the midst of her household. Her afflictions and struggles can easily be found in anywhere--within any demographic or any socio-economic background--but SPENCER very memorably tags one of the world's most famous families with the scourge, hurt, and hell of mental illness. In delivering this discussion via larger than life public figures, it ends up being an impactful examination--albeit one that needs you to discard any of your behind-the-scenes, inside-the-palace, THE CROWN-watching expectations.

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