by Rory Buccheri
The snippets of reviews I have glanced at so far suggest that Spencer (2021) has been received by the public as a ‘Marmite’ movie: love or hate, no in-between. While it is hard to be on board with a biopic about a recent legend such as Lady Diana Spencer, the movie itself has its merits in sitting comfortably between the fictionalised and the real account of her life.
First of all, there is something that must be said about the soundtrack: if the cinematic retelling itself didn’t win you over, then the music definitely will. Spencer’s tunes are dramatic, edging, phantasmagoric. Composer Jonny Greenwood paints with notes, accomplishing a true musical masterpiece to accompany Lady D’s life.
photo courtesy of PureWow
From the beginning of the movie, we see Diana already at the point of collapse. The focus is on Christmas of 1991 in Sandringham, Norfolk. A glance at a three-day period provides insight into a life-changing moment in Diana’s life: she finally decides to divorce Charles and speak up about her mental health. In the movie, graphic sequences of her mental health deteriorating are accompanied by flashbacks to a happier period of her life, spent just a few miles away from Sandringham, at the Spencer estate. Indeed, one of the most touching scenes is the breaking of her pearl necklace at the top of the stairs of the Spencer mansion: suspended in time, Diana finds herself torn between remaining in a loveless marriage and taking a step forward that has dire consequences, but will allow her to be free again. The point is strengthened by the many surreal scenes of royal moments featured in the film, such as the pompous Christmas dinner, followed by a graphic scene of eating disorders, and the sewing shut of Diana’s room’s curtains, metaphorically and physically shielding her from the outside world.
Kristen Stewart is at her most Dianaesque in the scene featuring the iconic wedding dress, walking across the field of Sandringham on the heart-shattering notes of the soundtrack. In one of the most evocative sequences in the movie, the little girl Diana runs free, and becomes an adult in the process, the Lady, spouse to Prince Charles, that finally finds the courage to run out of the symbolic and actual gates of the Crown estates.
The word ‘currency’ is recurring in the movie, and many are the attempts at portraying the Royal Family as a victim of their own status, forcing every member to be ‘two people’, as Prince Charles reminds us in the movie. Behind this duality, there is a glimpse into authenticity, with the heart-warming scenes in which Diana is with her two boys – with young William and Harry. That’s where the love and the legacy come to life.
Kristen Stewart is at a career-defining moment in Spencer. Side by side with director Pablo Larrain, she is at the most spectacular of her acting endeavours so far. There is no shadow of a doubt: the intensity of her performance alone makes the movie unforgettable.