zotwot’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Here, in this house, there is no future. Past and present are the same thing."
Spencer is set on three days in December 1991 as Diana, Princess of Wales joins the Royal Family for Christmas at Sandringham. Diana is in a fragile state with her marriage strained due to Prince Charles' affair with Camilla Parker-Bowles and struggling to cope with the absurd life of being in the royal family.
Whilst you would expect the film to focus on Diana, I was surprised how little the rest of the royal family, other than her sons William and Harry, appear in the film. It's some way in before we even see their faces and even then, the Queen has one line of dialogue outside the televised Christmas speech and Prince Charles only really has any significant dialogue in one scene. It's a clever technique which really helps to amplify Diana's sense of loneliness and sees her seek solace in the staff of the palace, with mixed results.
Really this is a film about a woman undergoing a mental health crisis in just about the worst, least caring place to have one. We see Diana struggle with bulimia which is well known in the household yet no-one seems to do anything to help. She also begins to have visions, including of Lady Jane Grey and considers taking her own life at one point. For much of the film it didn't matter that this was Princess Di, it's a human being struggling with the thoughts in their head and not getting the help they need, told in a really excellent way.
Kristen Stewart has been lauded for her performance and I can't argue with the fact that it's incredible. It didn't feel like she was pretending to be Diana for much of the film but that she'd somehow become her. What's interesting is that there are few moments where Diana actually really shows what she is feeling in the film and instead is hiding the depth of her feeling beneath the surface. Somehow Stewart captures this excellently, showing Diana's true self when she is alone but emitting a sense of deep discomfort when she is amongst the royal family.
A film like this always brings about questions of accuracy. How much of the events of this film really happened? I suspect the answer is not many. This isn't trying to be The Crown and to give an accurate account of the royal family as can possibly be given, it's certainly a fictionalised version of events. What it does do though is take some things we know for certain about Diana and try to capture what she was feeling, something which I think the film achieves.
I wasn't particularly excited about the prospect of watching a film about the royal family but it turns out this is a film entirely about Diana and about a woman struggling with her mental health. One of, if not the, best performances of the year brings it to life and I'm so glad I ended up seeing this because it's phenomenal.