Spencer

Spencer ★★★★½

Pablo Lorrain's re-imagining of Princess Diana's cracking and crashing under the weight and tradition of British sovereignty is fanciful, dark and nothing short of brilliant. Add in a bravura performance by Kristen Stewart and a jarring score by Jonny Greenwood that reflect Diana's state of mind, and this is easily one of the best films of 2021.

The metaphors for Diana's entrapment and helplessness are repeated throughout the film and aren't subtle. Yet like leitmotifs in music, they remind Diana and the viewer that the web is tight, powerful, patriarchal and historical, inextricably linked to a national identity that fiercely resists deconstruction. The rituals of dinner, the shooting of pheasants, the curtains being sewn-shut, the man-servant who represents military and colonial power, the doomed figure of Anne Boleyn.

The narrative is fantasy and unlikely to endear Lorrain to either the royal family or to the many fans of the Princess of Wales. And of course Diana herself was born into nobility, accustomed to privilege, becoming a fashion icon and a fairytale figure that thousand projected their fantasies onto. But Lorrain's intention is to present a woman being brought down by larger societal forces she can't control, just as Cassavettes does in "A Woman Under the Influence".

Two secondary characters are noteworthy, both in performance and how they figure in the story - Timothy Spall as Major Gregory and Sally Hawkins as Maggie, Diana's dresser. The Major becomes a sinister stand-in for nationalistic dominance and control represented by the monarchy and the "Kingdom". We still unquestionably refer to it as the UK although the term empire is now relegated to history (except in irony or criticism) while kingdom is not. Maggie is Diana's ally and plays a wonderfully subversive role at the end. I loved she was revealed as a lesbian as even more of an affront to the heteronormativity and patriarchy as embodied in the monarchy and line of succession.

The only part of the film I didn't like was the ending. Although meant to show Diana's liberation, if only in fantasy, it felt like it came out of the blue, was a little too optimistic after all that went before, and overly contemporary. Although I must say that I liked the use of "All I Need is a Miracle" as a nod to the idea of miracles which had been referenced earlier. And Diana being joined by her sons. The KFC bit was too much, though (Remember Diana was to the manor born). Nonetheless, this was a great film and my favorite Lorrain so far.

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