Spencer ★★½

Tantalizingly brilliant, but ultimately too arch and distant for me to latch on to. Usually these types of artsy subversions of history and royal myth-making are right up my alley, and in fact it’s Larraín’s odd and unexpected detours that leave me impressed after seeing this film. But that’s mostly on a formal and visual level of appreciation, because Larraín’s surreal style only brings out the worst aspects in both the performances and the screenplay. Spencer has the misfortune of being written by one of the worst screenwriters ever: Steven Knight, a man who never met a theme he couldn’t milk dry through obvious symbolism and on the nose dialogue. The combination of blatant text and removed direction means that Diana rarely feels like a real person, other than the sadly rare moments where she is allotted genuine connections with her confidants and children. The alternately cold and frenzied cinematography, combined with Stewart’s effective though mannered performance, means the film ends up more in the stodgy, serious realm of period dramas like The Crown and Downton Abbey, which was certainly not Larraín’s intention. Spencer also feels like a film designed mainly for those who want to bask in the tragedy of Diana’s life. You’re never a few minutes without someone discussing the past, present or future (if not all three) of Diana. Look, I feel bad for Diana, and I felt bad for her before seeing this movie. But at some points it’s hard to feel bad for someone complaining that the temperature in their royal mansion is too cold. At the end of the day you learn that the system of aristocratic royalty is barbarous and inhumane to those not bred and indoctrinated in it - but for those who already had an inkling of that, Spencer unfortunately comes across as a melodramatic, art-damaged diagnosis of that information.

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