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Spencer Review

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Even though she died a little over two decades ago, Princess Diana is one of the most mythologised figures in British history. Like Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and Winston Churchill, Princess Diana is more of a symbol than a real person nowadays. Spencer attempts to grapple with the myth of Princess Diana, to humanise a person whose humanity has been forgotten in order to create the image we have of Diana.

Spencer depicts the royal Christmas festivities at Sandringham, shortly before Diana made the decision to leave Prince Charles and the Royal Family. Whilst that might sound like the synopsis of an episode of the next series of The Crown, the film takes a more fictionalised approach than previous depictions of Princess Diana. Other than the context the story takes place within and some details, like the inclusion of recreations of the 1991 Queen’s Speech, the film is a completely fictional depiction of Christmas 1991 at Sandringham. This works to Spencer’s advantage so well. The film can capture the spirit of Princess Diana without sticking to what we all know about her. Instead of building on the myth, the film is trying to deconstruct, Spencer can explore who Diana was as a person. Not the mythical Princess Diana, the person who you can still buy memorial tartan for on the Royal Mile, but the real Diana. Diana the mother, the wife, the friend, the person.

This only works so well due to Kristen Stewart’s performance, for which she is almost guaranteed an Oscar nomination. Whilst Stewart doesn’t look as similar to Diana as Emma Corrin does in The Crown she absolutely nails all of Diana’s mannerisms and affects, from obvious things like the way she talks and holds her head at an angle, to tiny details I wouldn’t have noticed if someone hadn’t pointed them out to me. It would be very easy for a depiction of Diana like this to be a caricature, but Stewart brings a level of nuance to the role few actors manage. At this point, even the most virulent Twilight hater has to admit Kristen Stewart is really talented.

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Beyond Stewart’s performance, Spencer’s biggest strength is how beautiful and atmospheric it is. From its use of jazz to illustrate anxiety and discomfort to stunning shots of the Norfolk countryside, Spencer is worth a watch even if you don’t care about Princess Diana and the Royals.

Image: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons