Kristin Stewart Stars as Princess Diana in Unconventional Filmic Portrait
DIRECTED BY PABLO LARRAÍN/2021
BLU-RAY STREET DATE: JANUARY 11, 2021/DECAL – NEON
We’ve all seen it in films – the grounded woman meets the charming man, humbles him, and for her reward she falls in love and becomes a princess. In that order, of course, as studio execs intend for us to indulge in the bootlicking of riches and stature, but not at the expense of love. Surely, they aren’t heartless and part of the problem…
But Pablo Larraíne’s slice-life-tale about three miserable days in Princess Di’s life is much less Disney/meets-rom-com and much more The Shining meets Get Out.
Larraíne admits up front that this is a fable, and that some of the influence may be from the public’s always-shifting disdain for the royals over what anyone believes what really happened. Essentially though, the core of Spencer feels like the truth… even if none of this really happened.
Tradition is suffocating in Spencer but Kristen Stewart’s magnificent performance as Di is far from completely virtuous. Sometimes I worried Larraíne tipped too far into making her appear to be mentally ill, but I think that in the end the balance is strong. She’s empathetically a free spirit, but her knives are so out that at any incursion, she’s ready to slash back. You are shown how the royals may view her as an ungrateful nuisance.
Since most people who say they don’t care about the royals will then go on and on about how it’s all rich people problems and Di and Meghan are spoiled… Twenty minutes of ranting later, you realize they actually really, reallycare about the royals. As someone who legit doesn’t care about the royals, I had to look things up. Di was 16 when she met the almost 30-year-old Charles. She was groomed to a lifestyle she had questionable consent on. Larraine’s gloomy and drab photography to capture the mood is in the service of a subject who felt like a prisoner.
Ultimately, you don’t have to care about the royals to care about Spencer. This is just intoxicating filmmaking, masterful acting, and a Jonny Greenwood score that should be awarded on Oscar night. To quote Ebert, a film isn’t what it’s about but rather how it’s about it. And how this is about Diana is just incredible.
– Paul Hibbard
Having watched Spencer first as a streaming link (for film critics’ awards voting purposes) and then via Neon’s physical release on Blu-ray, there’s no question that the disc wins out. As Paul states in his review above, Larraín’s photography intentionally cultivates a “gloomy and drab” vibe. It’s the intensely lavish vacuousness of royal life, even in the comparatively minor “away” dwelling that Spencer takes place- all as Diana’s marriage is publicly unraveling- that said vibe is in service of. The Blu-ray presents a richer, more textured, grainier feel. The uncompressed audio is all the better for Greenwood’s excellently obtuse score.
The only noteworthy bonus feature is an EPK-style “making of” video, wherein various cast and crew members are interviewed about their experiences in interpreting this most interesting and different version of a very well-known story. Spencer is a vitally intimate film, and not concerned with historical absolute truth so much as it’s projection of Di’s mental state as she careens into what very well might’ve been the most scrutinized divorce of the twentieth century.
This is one case in which the studio execs who greenlit this film didn’t intend to sweep the audience off its feet with happily-ever-after escapism. The whole point is about how Di longs to escape but can’t. Spencer is not at all the Princess Di biopic that the masses quite likely hoped for and assumed it would be. But those familiar with the oeuvre of Pablo Larraíne (Jackie; Neruda; Ema) will not be surprised by the Larraíne-ness of it all. That’s as it should be. Outside of the theater, watching Spencer via the new Blu-ray disc (on a properly calibrated television) is the most ideal way to experience this film, and it’s astonishing central performance.
– Jim Tudor