Reviews of movies and TV focused on women

Review: Spencer with a terrific Kristen Stewart

Kristen Stewart in Spencer

Spencer makes it plain from the start that it isn’t telling a true story. That’s the only reassuring thing about this tale of psychological horror featuring Kristen Stewart as Diana, Princess of Wales. I rented it on Apple+, but I think it’s available elsewhere, too.

Spencer takes place in three days over the Christmas holiday about 10 years into Diana’s marriage to Charles (Jack Farthing). It paints Diana’s existence as mentally excruciating. The confines of royal tradition and expectations, the onslaughts of the paparazzi, and the pain of Charles’ infidelity all combine to make her life unbearable.

Kristen Stewart in Spencer

The film emphasized Diana’s eating disorder. It showed her hallucinating the ghost of Anne Boleyn as she contemplated having her head chopped off. She did everything wrong on purpose – showed up late, wore the wrong clothes, refused to eat. Her life is painted as a horror show.

Kristen Stewart, Freddie Spry, and Jack Nielen in Spencer

Her moments with her two boys, Harry (Freddie Spry) and William (Jack Nielen) were a respite, moments when she could be true to herself. She also relied on Maggie (Sally Hawkins) to keep her grounded and feeling normal.

All in all, Spencer was an unpleasant film. The disconcerting score kept you unsettled. Still, the idea that Diana was so weak that she was driven crazy by her responsibilities felt ludicrous. We’ve all seen The Crown and learned how being a royal is its own kind of misery. This film takes that idea to its furthest extreme.

Although it was several more years before Diana and Charles divorced, the film suggests that running as far and as fast as she can from her life as a Princess is the only hope for Diana. She makes a mini-run for it at the end of the three days.

Kristen Stewart as Diana impressed. The way she moved, held her body, and spoke was spot on. The clothes and make up brought her close to Diana’s appearance. Her emotional understanding of what Diana was feeling was brilliant and showed in her eyes. Stewart absolutely deserves the award nominations she’s been getting for the film.

Despite the fact that I didn’t enjoy the film, it did what it set out to do. It isn’t a standard biopic. It showed the psychological horror of a troubled mind in brilliant detail. Kristen Stewart and director Pablo Larraín made it work as intended.

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