Spencer is a sublime, lavish, and grand oeuvre from Pablo Larraín that can be treated as a ghost story like his previous venture of a lost soul, Jackie, as it switches from a dreamlike illusion to a complete nightmare for Diana Spencer, who Kristen Stewart beautifully embodies as she delivers her best performance to date.
After years of suffering, the time has finally come. The marriage of Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) and Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) has been growing increasingly cold. There are rumors of affairs and divorce all around, yet peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the Queen’s (Stella Gonet) Sandringham Estate. There is a lot of eating and drinking, shooting and hunting; however, Diana knows what is going on behind all of the charades. Things will be different this time. This is a re-imagining of what might have happened during those hauntingly ruinous days.
David Lowery couldn’t make The Green Knight (2021) without first crafting A Ghost Story, and the same goes for Larraín with his newest film Spencer. Without Jackie, Larraín wouldn’t have managed to control the balance between the essence of a “biopic” and the multiple layers behind its subject, one that converts from drama to horror in just a quick second. The Chilean auteur knows how to get into the psyche of his characters and his indirect approach to storytelling. His latest digs deep into Diana’s mindset amidst the gnawing ethos of the Royal Family; the examination of “The People’s Princess” and how she was maltreated by a suffocating brigade of commandments that she is forced to follow, slowly getting her into a melancholic state. Thanks to Johnny Greenwood’s score, with the beautiful violin strings attached, as well as the film’s structure, there is a horror-esque atmosphere surrounding the Royal estate.
From the fog that covers Sandringham to the manipulation and insults thrown at her so she can “act accordingly” to their standards, the screen is showered with a sense of agonizing dread. However, some scenes shed away some of the pain. Those sections are like blurred fantasies or incantations; for example, Diana dancing through the halls in a lengthy sequence or playing with her children, which shows how great a mother she was and her silly side. You see those scenes, and then it switches back to the ever-growing incubus of desolation. Of course, this is all an imagining and dramatization itself; this didn’t actually happen. Yet, the agony that the late princess had was, in fact, there all the time.
Jackie and Spencer have many similarities, making it a perfect double bill on the reflection of important political figures who have gone through great depths of pain, and both leads have their own demeanor. The intimacy within the layers of the two pictures is meshed with rigorous psychological constraints. Both Portman and Stewart’s interpretations are alienating, performing the isolation they feel. In contrast, their demeanor is controlled when they are amongst the people they internally loathe and sincere with their cherished ones. They’re performing, wearing a mask to hide away their true sorrows. Those we, the audience, know they are concealing.
With this second outing of what I hope becomes a trilogy, Larraín keeps showcasing his grand talent; you just sit back and admire what he has been able to pull off during these couple of years. There might be disconnection issues like Jackie for some people, but this work is too lavish, resplendent, and beautifully constructed to be dismissed. Kristen Stewart deserves a lengthy standing ovation and the respect of those who have ignored her brilliance thus far.
Hector Gonzalez is a Puerto Rican chemical engineering student and film critic with a great passion for cinema, award shows, 1960s music, and the horror genre. Some of his favorite films are RAW, Eyes Without a Face, and The Green Ray.