Spencer

Spencer ★★★½

Despite my deep-seated disinterest in the British royal family, I went to see Spencer anyway. I was expecting a traditional biopic (which I might have welcomed if done right) but this wasn't that at all. It's just about a few days in Princess Diana's life about ten years after her wedding. She's got her two kids and her royal prince is actively having an affair that's all over the tabloids. Hopefully you bring in some knowledge of the situation since this movie has no interest in playing catch up. Which isn't a crime... odds are even a skeptical and disinterested American probably knows the details.

The film is a fictionalized account of Diana spending an interminable Christmas vacation with her awful royal family in a richly appointed mansion with a bunch of busy-body staff. And even if the cynical part of me said, "Awww... poor little impossibly rich girl" there's the other part of me that is a human being. As Roger Ebert famously said, movies are a machine for creating empathy. And this is a damn good movie at creating empathy.

This film positions Diana as a pawn in a stupid game of royals. She has no authority, no say, no control over the stupid pointless things she's supposed to do in this house of madness. She creates her own small rebellions but she is actively thwarted by gossipy staff and expectations of the family. You think this was a Christmas vacation? Wrong... it's centuries of pointless formalities.

The movie quite simply traps you in her nightmare. And it ain't even a horror movie.

The film is a little slow paced and a little studied and stiff upper-lipped so it does require patience in between wanting to throttle some pointless royal or wait-staff. It's very intentional - placing this miserable life in such a mannered, genteel, upper-class environment. As if to dare you to think this royal life couldn't be this stifling.

Kristen Stewart plays Diana and, as memory serves, does a pretty good imitation of the real person. Certainly she manages to tone down her usual acting tics and replaces them with appropriate mannerisms. And she tells us her feelings without speaking the words. That feeling of entrapment the movie creates is both environmental and internal and she delivers.

I'm not sure how much I enjoyed this film so much as deeply respected its ability to place the viewer in a box. To empathize with Diana. And to hopefully know where the story is going vis-a-vis a divorce... but also where its going after.

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