Spencer ★★★½

Diana escapes the royal family’s malevolent forces by not eating the Christmas adrenochrome.

Pablo Larrain presents Spencer as a ‘A fable from a true tragedy’, signalling a confrontation with the Firm’s official narratives and media portrayals of Diana. Nothing in Spencer is accurate, from the characterisations to the events of the film to the princess’ hair, and Larrain uses this distance to explore the torment exerted by the royals in operatic dramatisation.

I can see why people love this, as it is a welcome departure from the incredibly staid biopic genre, but I feel it doesn’t go far enough in any direction, resulting in a slightly muddled product. Some scenes are also unnecessarily boring for a feature that has divorced itself from any specific narrative demands.

Kristen Stewart’s performance is transformational, thankfully not an impersonation, and while I found it a little forced at times it was incredibly engaging. The supporting performances are more mixed. Hawkins is decent, and Spall is suitably disquieting as the film’s version of the butler from The Shining. The actor playing Charles doesn’t really evoke the Prince at all, while Stella Gonet works best as Queen Elizabeth when sitting with a rictus grin, emanating a suffocating authority. 

The film looks great and has some interesting imagery, though sometimes these moments come across as more silly than dramatic. Some motifs work better than others. The presence of Anne Boleyn didn’t really synthesise into anything interesting for me, and Diana’s longing for her family home is depicted with little scrutiny.

This really highlights my greatest issue with the film, in that Larrain doesn’t seem interested in examining Diana’s problems on a larger scale, instead focusing on small moments of control or fictionalised cruelties. If he had either elevated the portrayal of the royals to more malevolent dramatic heights, or instead presented a wider, less hagiographic portrayal of Diana, I think a more interesting narrative could have developed.

Overall, though shot beautifully, well acted, and successful in its portrayal of the claustrophobia inherent to control and scrutiny, Larrain’s arthouse borrowings are not employed thoroughly enough to transcend the conventional biopic form. As a result, the film is stuck in a limbo of mood and perspective.

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