Spencer ★★★

With all the hype I had developed for this movie, I was disappointed to see that Spencer almost solely flourishes in its technical aspects. The cinematography and Greenwood’s score are some of the best so far this year, but does that really mean anything if the movie accompanying these characteristics is as much of a meandering, repetitive bore as this one? Larrain’s direction doesn’t display any sign of the point he is trying to make with this film, if there even is one. He leaves out any semblance of heart and nuance from this film, something that is vital to a subversive biopic like this, and instead portrays Diana an a cut and dry character, whose defining characteristic is sadness. This portrayal just feels like a very narrow view of Diana’s personality, without providing any reasoning behind her emotions and seemingly inexplicable actions. Without exploring the corruption behind the British monarchy, Diana as a character just comes off as a one dimensional caricature of sadness instead of the complex person, oppressed by the system who she truly was. 

For the reason mentioned above, I found the depictions of Diana’s self harm and eating disorder to be nearing exploitative, which i doubt was the intention behind this film. The overbearingly graphic nature of these scenes juxtaposed with the squeaky clean image that Diana is supposed to give off actually draws a fairly interesting parallel, that is with context, something that this film hardly provides. But instead of the purpose that this scene should be serving, I saw it as a cheap plot device, used to harness the viewer’s sympathy. Although the events shown in these scenes may be true, I don’t see any need for them to be included in this film, especially with Diana’s legacy still so fresh in many peoples minds. 

Really, this movie is nothing without context, both for the things I already mentioned, and for the comparisons that the film drew to Anne Boleyn, which ended up being a very important aspect of this movie. I don’t know about the average viewer, but when Boleyn appeared on screen, I had only a faint idea of who this person was and what she was known for. This may just be a fault on my end for lack of general knowledge, but I became very confused in the scenes which Anne Boleyn appeared or was referred to, which did hurt my understanding of the film. 

Now, it is time to talk about Kristen Stewart’s performance, and this may come as a shock to a lot of people, but you know how I said Diana feels like a one dimensional caricature of sadness in this movie? Well the same goes for Stewart’s performance. She repeatedly executed this same emotion, very well mind you, but it becomes exceedingly tedious as the film carries on. Stewart doesn’t break from this depressing persona for the whole movie, which definitely makes for a solid performance considering Stewart’s acting prowess, but I simply wouldn’t consider such a one-noted performance like this among the best of the year.

With this film, comes the inevitable comparison to Jackie, a film which I view quite favorably. Spencer and Jackie are films that are very similar in structure, both following prominent political figures in perhaps their darkest days. These two films are obviously trying to do two completely different things, but I think that I prefer Larrain’s direction in Jackie to Spencer, and by quite a large margin. This is mostly because Jackie is more effective in getting you inside the psyche of the character being studied, an exercise that Spencer struggled with. Getting inside the heads of these characters is undeniably something important to the effectiveness of both these films, given the emotional torment aiming to be conveyed, but Spencer is a lot less precise when it comes to conveying emotions. A lot of the time you are left wondering what Diana is feeling. She is given a lot of time in this movie to sit with her thoughts, giving the viewer a much less hands on approach to getting an idea of Diana’s emotions, which I simply found to be less effective than the approach taken in Jackie. It also helps that Natalie Portman is a marginally better actress than Kristen Stewart. 

This film wasn’t really my thing on a narrative level, but there was a ton to appreciate aside from that. I really enjoyed the costuming and set decoration combined with the cinematography which gave off an almost grainy feel to it, which took me right into the setting of this film. And if Jonny Greenwood doesn’t get double nominated for his scores this year, I will have reached a new level of disappointment with academy voters. Even though I have some major problems with the way this film is told, I still wouldn’t discourage anyone from watching this movie because of the extreme quality of its technical elements. 

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