‘Spencer’ Review – The Divine and the Disgusting

“Keep noise to a minimum, they can hear you” is the overarching phrase that haunts the retelling of the tragedy in Spencer.

In hidden corridors and closed windows, the world in which we are introduced to Spencer is discrete but manages to speak volumes not only about Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) but the suffocating English monarchy she finds herself within. Spencer flourishes across three days as the royal family holiday together in their Sandringham home. During these tense times, the unspoken name Camilla hangs on the lips of the Monarchy and tabloids as we watch Diana bubble over into a psychotic landslide.

The film’s sympathetic portrayal of Diana presents her as seeming to be held together by a corset. The film’s central conflict gravitates around repressed anger, stemming from avoided confrontation. Diana is presented as an undercurrent in a lake and a continuous nuisance to the royal family as she grapples with the loss of her independence and betrayal. Stewart’s phenomenal, career-defining performance is what carries the film as she effortlessly conveys the intricacies of Diana’s turning mind within a split second. This restrained yet powerful performance manages to speak volumes about the unspoken and unacknowledged pains of royal life as the insidious claustrophobia hangs around Diana like a collar of pearls.

princess diana movie

However, Stewart’s once-in-a-generation performance is not the only component of the film that manages to re-shape our understanding of the Monarchy. In analysing and dissecting Diana’s psychology, the film takes a welcomed psychoanalytic approach. Reminiscent of Black Swan (2010), the film contains hallucinations and glorifications that are utterly repulsive in establishing the salience of Diana’s withering mental state. The dichotomy between transgressing the beauty into the repugnant, oppressive, and psychologically traumatising, elevates the film beyond a simple biopic. It transforms itself into an art-cinema exploration that is just as sour as it is sweet.

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Moments of self-harm and almost schizophrenic hallucinations culminate until the question of Diana’s sanity rings relevant. The ability to seamlessly illustrate the degrading state of sanity within Diana is both a testament to Stewart’s acting, as well as Steven Knight’s astonishing script. The film takes on an almost Alice in Wonderland-like role as over the three days, we fall deeper into Diana’s psychosis to where viewers themselves are unable to distinguish reality from hallucinations.

The bare bones of Spencer is a journey of self-reconciliation as Diana grapples with her loss of identity and independence under the scrutiny of the English Monarchy. Yet, to say that is all Spencer is is a gross misrepresentation of the discomfort this film exquisitely explores. Spencer is an account of Diana that will leave you feeling distressed and uncontrollably disturbed as this mere glimpse into her life is enough to dispel the prized jewel of the Monarchy forever.

Fun Fact:

Princess Diana’s former bodyguard Ken Wharfe on Stewart’s performance: “Out of all the people who have played Diana over the past 10 years, she’s the closest to her. She managed to perfect her mannerisms.”

Entertainment Value
Directed By
Pablo Larraín
Kristen Stewart
Timothy Spall
Jack Farthing
Sean Harris
Sally Hawkins
16 posts

About author
A screen studies student from the University of Melbourne, next year Jessica will be embarking on her thesis detailing the exploration of desire in Italian cinema. Jessica has been reviewing films and working with film festivals for the past few years, and is excited for their return post-lockdown. Deserted Island Movie Collection: Luca Guadagnino’s 'Call Me By Your Name', Ted Kotcheff’s 'Wake in Fright', Jennifer Kent’s 'The Nightingale' and both Argento’s and Guadagnino’s 'Suspiria'. Best Movie Snack: Cinema Nova Melbourne's home-made choc-tops and a glass of wine or two.


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