“They know everything.“
Those were the last lines of the first trailer that was released for Spencer, Pablo Larrain’s latest quasi-biopic focusing on the intimate personal life of a famous woman, and they are quite good at setting the tone for how it unravels.
As with his previous outing of this nature, 2016’s fabulous Jackie, Larrain imbues intricate detail and character into the life of a woman many think they know, but uses the word ‘fable’ in the title card to stress that this isn’t a wholly by-the-letter depiction of Princess Diana; it’s an evocation of her, an estimated portrayal that dives deeper than any media depiction probably ever will because few people know the intimate sides of her, the person she was when she was alone, and Larrain uses this framework to take a look into the strictness of the Royal family as well as the way the media and press treat women.
Spencer has shades of Jackie at times but feels like a vastly different endeavour, which serves to highlight how insular Spencer wants to make the events feel while showing Larrain’s range and depth as a filmmaker.
In short, Spencer is nothing short of a masterpiece, in my humble opinion.
If I’m being real, I knew that from the moment this project was announced that I was going to love it, but I was never prepared for how deeply it would shake me. The foggy, grainy surface that’s blanketed over the landscape of Sandringham Estate, the fine detail of the interior, the utter feeling of dread that bubbles within you as the camera follows Diana around the vast manor, it’s all sublime filmmaking and binds together to create a portrayal of Diana that’s both complex and mesmerising. And however farfetched the tales of her life may be, Larrain and screenwriter Steven Knight work together to make everything feel believable.
Knight, in particular, turns in probably one of the best scripts I’ve seen of his; the dialogue is sharp and haunting, the plot progression feels in coordination with the smoothness of the camera movements to create a ghostly feel around Diana, and it works well to paint a picture of this particular read on her.
Visually, it’s a treat. Cinematographer Claire Mathon creates such an ethereal background from the very first image that sets the tone very nicely, perfectly utilising the dense fog and natural lighting in the exterior scenes, and doing a brilliant job at constructing a feeling of dread and unease whenever Diana walks the halls of the Estate. This works in combination with the elegant, intricate production design work from Guy Hendrix Dyas, whose work never fails to stand out in every scene.
Okay, okay, I’ve held off long enough. It’s time to talk about the film’s biggest draw: Kristen Stewart in what can only be described as a career-best, monumental performance that will go down in the history of film as one of its finest turns. She is exceptional as Diana in every single moment. It’s not just the terrific accent work, but the fact that she clearly lets her research seep into her performance. I never felt as though she was trying to imitate, but instead, use reality to inform the fantasy. Her physicality is on another level; there’s always a certain amount of tension in Stewart’s body as she navigates another inconvenience, another appearance, another anxious dinner over the course of the three days she spends at the Estate. She holds herself together in all of these moments only to let herself loose when she’s playing with her children (who also turn in wonderfully real performances) or dancing on the beach with her favourite dresser and closest confidant. Stewart is bold, fearless, and yet feels like she’s paying attention to Diana’s legacy in every movement. She and Larrain treat her with such care and tenderness that it never feels like they’re doing too much.
It’s because of the synergy between Larrain, Stewart, and every other member of the cast and crew that this project fully comes alive, backed by the haunting score by Jonny Greenwood, which induces chills in every cue, each variation on that spectacular main theme signalling a new facet of Diana and her life and it’s truly excellent.
Spencer is a stunning piece of filmmaking and everything you want a film to be: dynamic, sensitive, and deeply fascinating. I absolutely cannot get enough of it and I will be championing it all throughout awards season and I cannot see myself loving a performance more this year than Kristen Stewart’s. She is simply phenomenal and, honestly, anything less than an Oscar win is not enough.
Spencer is in cinemas now.