review

SPENCER REVIEW: Admirably weird portrait of a Princess stumbles with too much focus on Kristen Stewart’s Diana

Ben O’Shea The West Australian
CommentsComments
Kristen Stewart in Spencer.
Camera IconKristen Stewart in Spencer. Credit: Roadshow Films

SPENCER (starring Kristen Stewart, Jack Farthing, Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris, Timothy Spall)

3 STARS

RATED M, IN CINEMAS Jan 20

Some people will see Spencer as a courageously weird but highly effective portrait of Princess Diana, one of the most iconic and enigmatic figures of the 20th century.

Others will see it as a film that prioritises style over substance, offering little more than a superficial examination of its subject through a series of vignettes that are, at times, laughably silly.

The truth is probably somewhere in between.

The opening credits hint at the weirdness to come by warning the audience the film is “a fable from a true tragedy”, so one should not be surprised when the titular character begins having visions of Anne Boleyn.

For those who came in late, Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII, who was beheaded for adultery, even though Henry was the unfaithful one.

Yeah, the analogy ain’t subtle, but it’s a cunning way to amplify the psychological torment of Diana given the film is set across only three days of the Royal family’s Christmas celebrations of 1991, at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate.

Kristen Stewart in Spencer
Camera IconKristen Stewart in Spencer. Credit: Roadshow Films/The West Australian

Producing an expansive characterisation from such a narrow scope is Chilean director Pablo Larrain’s thing, having done something quite similar with his Oscar-nominated film, Jackie.

You’d have to say Jackie is a little more successful, however, because the brief timeline of that film covered the immediate fallout from one of the most momentous events in US history — the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Chrissie with the Windsors hardly compares.

Part of the challenge in assessing Spencer comes from the central performance of Kristen Stewart as Diana, which has already garnered significant Oscars buzz.

Let’s pump the brakes on that.

Physically, Stewart gives her all as a woman battling bulimia and the extreme pressure of being the “people’s princess”, and the result is an incredibly visceral depiction of Di.

But every time she opens her mouth, her attempt at a posh British accent is so hammy it should be studded with cloves, glazed with marmalade and given pride of place at Christmas dinner.

Other Royals are marginalised to the point of being non-existent, which is a blessing in the case of Prince Andrew, but one wishes Larrain could’ve found more screen time for QEII (Stella Gonet) and Charles (Jack Farthing), as the architects of Di’s anguish.

Kristen Stewart in Spencer
Camera IconKristen Stewart in Spencer. Credit: Supplied/Supplied

What we get instead is an insular vision of Diana’s life, and a descent into madness not unlike Jack Nicholson’s character in Kubrick’s horror classic, The Shining.

Viewed this way, Di’s decision to eventually leave Charles may be seen as an act of self-preservation, which, of course, is kinda the point of Spencer all along.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails