Spencer Movie Review: Spencer gives Princess Diana the escape she deserved

Story: ‘A fable from a true tragedy’, Pablo Larraín’s psychological drama is an unsettling reimagining of Princess Diana’s (Kristen Stewart) inner turmoil as she reluctantly attends a three-day Christmas celebration at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk. She also fears that a similar fate as Anne Boleyn awaits her.

Review: If you aren’t clued in on the British monarchy or Diana and Charles’ turbulent marriage, ‘The Crown’ is your one-stop shop. This film doesn’t get into the chronological details of a crumbling marriage, messy divorce or Charles’ extramarital relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles (second wife). It takes a fly on the wall approach as we witness Diana struggling to voice her agony. Having to make peace with her wings being clipped, her mental upheaval forms the crux of the story.

Navigating lavish gowns and a broken heart, Spencer follows a lovelorn princess on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Uncertain and unhappy, she oscillates hysterically across the haunting hallways of the majestic palace. Suffering from eating disorder, insomnia, delusion, she grabs every opportunity to escape hostile glances and cold, patronising words. Sick of putting on a happy face that propagates a culture of silence, we watch her fall apart piece by piece, drowning in self-pity, self-harm and ridicule. Trapped in a never-ending loop of royal duties, protocol and tradition, the UK’s most prestigious family stays oblivious to Diana’s crippling mental health. Barring the condescending ‘is she cracking up’ gossip, her outfits evoke more concern than her well-being. Jonny Greenwood’s almost suffocating; anxiety inducing music amplifies the internalised pain and isolation.

It’s fascinating that Diana’s life has been well documented and yet she continues to be a mystery. This is perhaps the reason why her tumultuous life continues to inspire innumerable films. Her situation was a nightmare disguised as a fairy-tale. A woman adored by millions and most photographed, craved to be seen and heard in her own house. A woman, who gave hope, struggled to find her feet. Larraín’s tense account juxtaposes Diana’s reality against the myth. The film says a lot without saying much and that is its most defining aspect.

Emma Corrin was brilliant as Diana and Stewart gives the character her own spin. She gets the head tilt, downward gaze, soft-spoken royal demeanour, mannerisms and elusive persona right. To get the British accent and voice on point, Stewart whispers for most part of the movie. Without subtitles, it’s a bit of an exercise for you to keep up with her dialogue. The actress is stronger and a revelation in non-verbal scenes. The brilliantly envisaged cathartic climax moves you to tears. This is Kristen Stewart’s best work till date. As Diana, her refusal to fall in line despite being broken on the inside is liberating.

Spencer is every woman’s story, who’s grown tired of living a lie. It breaks our notions of privilege and happiness. Diana had it all… beauty, wealth, and family, but it all came at the cost of her own freedom and identity.


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