‘Spencer’ Review: A Hypnotic Glimpse Behind the Royal Curtain

Who would’ve thought that the stoic and blank-stared teens from “Twilight” would grow up to become two of the best actors working today?

“Spencer” is set over the Christmas weekend of 1991 in which Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) decides that her place in life is not with the royal family. Jack Farthing, Timothy Spall, Sean Harris, and Sally Hawkins also star, while Pablo Larraín directs.

In last year’s “Mank,” Gary Oldman said that “you cannot capture a man’s entire life in two hours, you can only hope to leave the impression of one.” That rings true here with “Spencer” (Diana’s maidan name), which only gives us a 48-hour glance into the life and mental state of the troubled Princess, but thanks to a career-defining performance from Kristen Stewart we leave the film empathizing with the woman.

I consider myself a Kristen Stewart fan, I think that she is really charming and funny but also has shown to have dramatic chops when she needs to pull them out, too. Playing the famed Princess Diana, Stewart wears a facade smile to hide the stress that constantly being in the public eye is taking on her. When we first see Diana in the film, she stops by a small diner to ask for directions from the locals, who are in sheer disbelief that a member of the Royal Family is there by herself. But that is the Diana that Stewart and director Pablo Larraín come to present to us over the course of the film; a woman who is never fully comfortable playing the fancy role that she has married into, and longs for a simpler life. Stewart has panic attacks, intimate moments with her two young sons, and various conversations with staff, all portraying a different energy and levels of acting. She is all but certain to get an Oscar nomination for her work here, and could even take home the trophy.

Much like Larraín’s Jacqueline Kennedy biopic “Jackie” (which I thought was only OK), the costume design here is immersive and detailed. Simular to the First Lady, Diana has an unlimited number of fancy dresses and dinner attire at her disposal but she and the film feel the most organic when she is simply in a sweater or peacoat.

The real star of the show, however, is Jonny Greenwood’s score. Mixing noir trumpets and piano with anxiety-inducing violin, Greenwood (who also constructed the mix for “Phantom Thread”) lures you into this dream (or nightmare)-like world of Diana. There are times that the music is almost so hypnotic that I felt myself getting put into a daze; it’s truly a special musical score and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves.

“Spencer” is an untraditional biopic about an untraditional figure, and its flavor may not suit all people’s palates. The film ends on a relatively happy note after near two-hours of stress and depression, but even then, we can’t help but feel lachrymose knowing what we know about the ultimate fate of Diana. For fans of the Princess, or those who appreciate good acting and production, there is a lot here to unwrap.

Critics Rating: 8/10


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