“During her Christmas holidays with the royal family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, Diana Spencer, struggling with mental health problems, decides to end her decade-long marriage to Prince Charles.”
Director: Pablo Larrain
Writer: Steven Knight
Staring: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Nielen
Release Date: November 5, 2021
Spencer is complicated, but there is one undeniable truth. Kristen Stewart is absolutely dynamite as Princess Diana. Stewart saves Spencer from falling flat, and she deserves the Oscar nomination that she received this past Tuesday night. Coming from someone who who knew the bare minimum about Diana and the royals, Spencer shines a light on a persona who is struggling to find her identity within her marriage, her extended, and herself.
This bubble drama takes place during the Christmas holiday following the accusations surrounding Price Charles (Jack Farthing) regarding his infidelity in his marriage to Princess Diana. The tension among the royal family is high, and the stress of everything is wearing down heavily on Diana, both in a physical and mental way. The royal family is at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, literally a walk away from where Diana grew up. Despite being so close to home, she has never felt more caged than at this moment. The constraints of tradition and expectation shackle Diana to her own doubts and rollercoaster thoughts.
There is a fuck ton going on in the brain and heart of Diana, and that makes the performance of Stewart even more remarkable. Her facial acting and expressions of anguish and desperation are bluer than the tears of the Blue Christmas girl in The Year Without A Santa Claus (1974). Yea, that is a comparison I made. Deal with it. Her sadness is highlighted by the times when she actually has a smile on her face, and those are very rare times. The few times Diana is the enjoying her life are with her kids William (Jack Nielen) and Harry (Freddy Spry). The surprise Christmas gifts and the word play game remind the audience that Diana is human and underneath the veil of stress she does have a humane and recognizable soul.
The most important scene in Spencer comes when Prince Charles and Princess Diana are speaking about their public appearances.
Charles : The thing is, Diana, there has to be two of you. You… There’s, there’s two of me, there’s two of Father, two of everyone. There’s the real one and the one they take pictures of. Now, we are given tasks. You know, I, I hated to shoot at first. I gave my gun to the other one, but… But you know, you have to be able to make your body do things you hate.
Diana : That you hate?
Charles : That you hate.
Diana : That you hate?
Charles : Yes. For the good of the country.
Diana : Of the country?
Charles : Yes, the people. Because they don’t want us to be people. That’s how it is. I’m sorry, I thought you knew. So please, stick to the list as it is written, in the order that it is written.
Living a life of duplicity is not for everyone, and it is obviously not for Diana. The internal debate she is having with herself comes to vibrant visualization with visions of Anne Boleyn. This was not expected, and it is a big swing from writer Steven Knight. For those who don’t know, Anne got beheaded after her divorce from Henry VIII, and she did so somewhat amicably for the sake of the country. She literally lost her head for the sake of the royal family and the fake appearance for the public. Diana is losing her head, but in a more metaphorical sense. She doesn’t know what mental trap will act as the guillotine, but she knows if she doesn’t stand up then she will forever lose her way.
There is a lot of subtle motifs in the screenplay, but the soft whispers of wisdom are sometimes drowned out with the loudspeaker blaring “HEY LOOK AT THIS SYMBOLISM!!!” That is where this movie struggles to reach the peak of other award winners. There are some lines of dialogue that are so on-the-nose that you as the viewer will be stuffing tissues up your nostrils because the statements hit you so hard.
Stewart is nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress, and she is facing off against Jessica Chastain from The Eyes Of Tammy Faye (2021), Olivia Coleman from The Lost Daughter (2021), Penélope Cruz from Parallel Mothers (2021), and Nicole Kidman from Being The Ricardos (2021). I have seen three of the five, with Being The Ricardos and Parallel Mothers being the outliers, and Stewart is I think atop the card for me compared to the other nominees I can reference.
Olivia Coleman is very good in The Lost Daughter, but she is not the best acting in that particular movie, so I have a hard time giving it to her. All hail Jessie Buckley. Jessica Chastain is very good in The Eyes Of Tammy Faye, and man is that part different, but also the same, from Stewart as Princess Diana. Both stories tell of a women who has been thrust into the limelight more than they could have ever expected. Both begin suffering from mental hardships when the pressure and the attention begins to mount, and each have vices for how they are trying to handle their own insecurities. Each is connected to a man who is not faithful, and each is trying to reconcile the new life they are going to have to lead without the glamor they once new.
With all that being said, I lean Stewart when comparing the two because her part had less moving parts around it. The Eyes Of Tammy Faye was colorful, flashy and Andrew Garfield was there for Faye to bounce off of for the majority. In Spencer, it is almost entirely on Stewart, and it feels like she is more having a conversation with herself in her own head (though sometimes manifested with Anne Boleyn). It is a tad bit more introspective.
In terms of other awards that Spencer may have deserved, I have two for you. I was very surprised it did not get a Best Costume Design nomination. Princess Diana was known for her looks and there are plenty of gorgeous outfits in this movie. It would also have been great to see the score for Spencer get nominated. This movie plays off like a tense on-stage drama, and the percussion that is beating at the most stressful moments amplifies that chaos. It reminded me a bit of the score from Uncut Gems (2019) where the music gets so chaotic that you are screaming it to stop…much like how Diana is screaming at the thoughts in her head to slow down and let her think clearly.
It is some coincidence for me that both of my favorite performances for this year’s academy awards are royal family members who are being caged in a world of distrust and outward appearance: Jodie Cromer as Marguerite de Carrouges in The Last Duel (2021) and Stewart as Princess Diana.
Spencer is a drawn out story that lasts only a few days but the stress Diana feels in the story has been a nightmare years in the making. Kristen Stewart is magnetic with her distress, and her maniac nature carries the movie from a standard royal affair to one that is worth tuning into.
Fun fact, this movie was the 2,500th movie on my excel spread sheet. Kind of a big deal for me. I am glad it was an entertaining one.
STANKO RATING: B (3.0/5 Stars)
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