Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Review of SPENCER: Cornered and Claustrophobic

November 17, 2021

Just when you think you've seen everything about the life story of Diana, Princess of Wales had been told and retold in countless media, here comes another feature film that is about her. During this pandemic alone, she had been the subject of a television series ("The Crown" Season 4 in 2020) and a filmed play / Broadway musical ("Diana: The Musical" in 2021). Certainly, the world is still held rapt about everything about her short but tragic life, even if it had already been 24 years after her death by now. 

It was 1991. The royal family were gathered in Queen's Sandringham Estate in Norfolk to spend the Christmas holidays. Because her marriage to Charles had already been long strained at that point, Diana was not in a hurry to be with everybody else. Because of a book she saw in her room, she began to see her current condition as being similar to that of Anne Boleyn. She also bothered that her sons were going to be taught how to shoot down pheasants. How will this stressful weekend turn out for the distressed princess?

This is practically a one-woman show by Kristen Stewart, centering on Diana point of view and her extreme mental anguish. People find it hard to accept Stewart as Diana, as their initial impression never moved from her maligned breakthrough role as Bella Swan in the "Twilight" films. However, she is now far and away the early favorite to win the Oscar for Best Actress and deservedly so. Accurate accent and mannerisms aside, Stewart's subtly nuanced take on Diana's fragile state of mind, practically on the brink of insanity at times, was absolutely riveting and heart-breaking.

Her two boys William and Harry were the only ones happy to see her. The Queen (Stella Gonet), Charles (Jack Farthing) and even Camilla (Emma Darwall-Smith) were in there, but they did not really have too much good to say to Diana. Diana actually shared longer conversations with certain members of the household staff. These were: Equerry Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall),the Royal Head Chef Darren McGrady (Sean Harris) and the Royal Dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins), whom Diana felt was her only friend there. 

This biopic did not deal about the typical highlights of her eventful life, just this one Christmas in 1991. Director Pedro Larrain ("Jackie") knew we already knew the context of Diana's situation at that time well enough and did not need much preliminary exposition anymore. He concentrated mainly on Diana and her inner demons and he made sure we felt as cornered and helpless as she did. The cinematography by Clair Mathon ("Portrait of a Lady on Fire") and the costumes by Jacqueline Durran ("Little Women" 2019) both deserve citation. That Mike and the Mechanics song at the end was so perfectly chosen. 8/10. 

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