If ever there were an anti-Hallmark movie, a fairy tale in reverse, this might be it! From the very first frame, Spencer self-identifies as “a fable from a true tragedy,” and word of warning: you’ve got to have some knowledge of the royal marriage of “Charles and Diana” and its disastrous end to truly grasp what the film is trying to convey—a very depressed, lonely, free-spirited and bulimic Princess (Kristen Stewart) teetering on the brink. If not for her love and devotion to sons William and Harry, her royal highness Diana Princess of Wales (as she was known pre-divorce) would surely spiral out of control. It’s a royal shame.
Spencer is not a biopic. It’s a slice of imagined history inspired by real people, places and wardrobe choices. The story takes place over Christmas weekend 1991 at Queen Elizabeth’s beloved Sandringham Estate. Diana (née Spencer) is driving alone in a convertible, aimlessly lost (no Waze – just a paper map) – a metaphor for the entire film. She’s having trouble finding her way to the castle, even though she’s originally from that ‘hood. When she does arrive – she’s late. The Queen is already there. A major breach in protocol, drawing admonishment from the domineering equerry, Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall, Harry Potter) who directs Diana to her quarters. There, she finds the outfits that she is expected to wear (appropriately tagged ‘PoW’) as well as a hardback copy of “Anne Boleyn.” Subtext much?
[note: Okay, I admit it. I don’t watch “The Crown” and had to look up ‘equerry.’ It’s “an officer of the British royal household who attends or assists members of the royal family.”]
The supporting characters all serve as wallpaper, sounding boards and provocateurs (hello, Prince Charles)– flitting in an out of Diana’s space, and sub-conscious, as her world softly implodes.
I’m not one of those Kristen Stewart fair-weather fans who dismiss the work she did in the blockbuster franchise Twilight before becoming an indie darling (Clouds of Sils Maria, Personal Shopper). I applaud her range. Her performance is the main reason to watch Spencer and it’s a pretty good bet she will be nominated – perhaps even win- an Oscar for the role. The film itself and the construct of the narrative is reminiscent of director Pablo Larraín’s take on another cultural icon- Jackie Kennedy – in 2016’s Jackie. That one scored Natalie Portman an Academy Award nomination for Best Leading Actress. If you liked Jackie, you’ll probably like Spencer. If you didn’t like Jackie but liked Portman’s performance, you’ll probably feel the same way about Stewart. Both actresses capture the nuances of strong, complicated, high-profile women beset by tragedy.
Arty Chick weighs in: Unlike Mainstream Chick, I have never been a fan of Kristen Stewart. I was not entirely swayed by Clouds of Sils Maria, but her performance here made me see her in a new light. She is the reason to see this film and I, too, suspect she will get her first Academy nomination for this one. As Mainstream Chick says, the script is not all that strong. But lovers of the Princess Di tragedy narrative will no doubt overlook that and find her story compelling.