Spencer

Spencer ★★★★

Spencer isn't really a biopic of Princess Diana. It's a psychological horror of Diana Spencer, who is trapped in an oppressive cage of a mansion, within a stifling world of manners, clothing, food, and expectations.

Pablo Larraín, who previously delivered the great quasi-biopic Jackie (in which Natalie Portman was stunning), again produces a slice of life of a high-profile woman in a world that's out of her control. But unlike Jackie, which was a slice of a historical moment in time, Spencer tells a fictional story of a weekend getaway based on some of the most famous people in the world.

And there's a lot of greatness here. Starting with Larraín's direction - his choice to tell this story in an idiosyncratic, impressionistic, and often hallucinatory depiction worked very well, creating a sense of nightmare for its protagonist, one in which the viewers shared.

The cinematography by Claire Mathon (who burst through the scene with the perfectly shot Portrait of a Lady on Fire) was superlative. Her 4:3 ratio was an inspired choice, as it captured the vastly vertical opulence of this mansion. Also, a visual haze was often deployed to further indicate the dreamy nightmarish state.

Johnny Greenwood continues to prove himself as one of the finest film scorers working. His jazzy riffs mixed with melancholic sadness worked perfectly.

Jacqueline Durran's costumes were brilliant: gorgeous, yet suffocating.

And then there's Kristen Stewart. As many know, I have not been a K-Stew fan. Even her "breakthrough" role in Clouds of Sils Maria was only just fine for me. She's always been too one-note: a personification of tense, bottled up anxiety with little connective emotion underneath.

However, her portrayal of Diana is quite an accomplishment. Her quirks work perfectly for this characterization, while she also masters Diana's vocal tones, facial expressions, and physical gestures. There's also a lot more happening underneath Diana's trapped anxiety - feelings of regret, bitterness, and contempt. Though, those emotions are balanced by a joyfulness that reveals itself when she interacts with her two children. While I didn't totally buy motherly love from Stewart, I certainly bought warm playfulness.

So, Kristen Stewart has convinced me of her acting ability: Kudos to her. Her accolades for this role are deserved.

And not to be forgotten, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris, and Jack Farthing (in that order of impressiveness) are all great.

My biggest concern with Spencer is its monotonous tone. It starts at a point of sorrowful, stifled anxiety and stays that way for over 100 minutes. That choice works in putting everyone in a nightmarish world, but the lack of tonal build and/or variety bothered me. However, it makes the final ten minutes that much more enjoyable (the bright ending was an excellent choice).

I'll also say that Steven Knight's screenplay isn't subtle one bit. It's a very obvious swipe at the Royal Family, fairly or unfairly. I would've appreciated more nuance - but, of course, this isn't a true historical drama; it's a character study.

These concerns keep Spencer from "elite" level, and I debate whether to push the film down further.

But the film's positives are *so* great - Larraín, Stewart, Mathon, Greenwood, and Durran are all in peak form - that I'm having trouble going lower than 4/5 (check back later to see if I’ve changed my mind).

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