This review does contain spoilers of the movie ‘Spencer.’
Kristen Stewart stars as Princess Diana Spencer in the biographical psychological drama “Spencer,” directed by Pablo Larraín. Released on Nov. 5, the film follows Diana through the Royal Family’s Christmas stay at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk in 1991. As an avid follower of the Royal Family and Princess Diana’s legacy, I really enjoyed this film despite its more indie style.
When watching this film, it’s important to keep in mind that this story is a fictionalized account of Diana deciding to leave the Royal Family. It is not meant to be entirely accurate; it is an exploration of Diana’s psyche through symbolism and visual metaphor. And while some may critique the film’s intense dramatization, I felt that it made sense in the movie because Larraín was fitting the breadth of Diana’s emotional turmoil throughout her marriage into the span of a few days. The film opens with the words “A Fable of a Tragedy;” it is meant to be a fictional depiction and that fable is shown through the many symbols throughout the film. The two prominent ones being the pearls that Prince Charles, played by Jack Farthing, purchased both for Diana and Camilla, Charles’ mistress during the course of their marriage, and the constant reminder of the tragic death of Anne Boleyn, one of the six executed wives of King Henry VII, played by Amy Manson.
The symbol of the pearls is used by Larraín to display to his audience how Diana is held captive within her marriage. When Charles gives Diana a set of pearls for Christmas that are identical to ones he had gifted to Camilla, Diana first attempts to rid herself of them, showing how she doesn’t want to be stuck in Charles’ hold like Camilla is. Throughout the film, she is forced to wear the pearls, symbolizing a collar that has been put on her by her husband, forcing her to be submissive to him and everything he asks of her. In one of the most important scenes that showcase the pearls, Diana envisions herself breaking them from around her neck and the pearls land in her pudding. She then consumes the pearls and the pudding in a crazed manner while staring at Charles. This scene is a metaphor for Diana’s desire to break free from Charles’ hold on her, but her consumption of them shows how she is forced to push down and consume her hatred and spite for the sake of appearances, but she then proceeds to relieve herself of her spite in the next scene, which depicts Diana’s struggle with bulimia. I loved these scenes in particular because they give viewers a deeper look into Diana’s eating disorder and her relationship with food through this metaphor, especially because Diana’s bulimia is something that has been shown as a weakness in other depictions of her life. But here, it’s shown as a coping mechanism, a symptom of her lack of control in her life.
In addition, Larraín is able to depict Diana’s constant spiral over the course of the film by mirroring her story with Anne Boleyn: a woman killed by her royal husband simply because she could not satisfy him due to reasons out of her control. Diana envisions Queen Elizabeth, played by Stella Gonet, as Anne at the first dinner scene, where Diana is failing to be the perfect princess that the Royal Family needs her to be. This directly references an earlier scene where Diana said Anne went to the chopping block with grace—it’s a metaphor for how the Queen is asking Diana to do the same, but she defies that expectation. Diana also sees flashes of Anne in her most dire moments, and she even envisions herself as Anne as well when her spiral is rapidly coming to a head. And while all of these moments are meant to show how Diana’s story is a foil of Anne Boleyn’s, how Diana is not the first woman forced into a royal family that this has happened to, it’s also meant to show how Diana desperately tried to break out of her own tragedy. I personally love historical allusions within storytelling, and using the historical context of Anne Boleyn adds depth to Diana’s experiences in the Royal Family. The relation between Anne and Diana, the pattern shown between these two, is meant to depict that the women here are not the problem, but the monarchy is. And because of this, Diana couldn’t wait for someone to save her.
All of this goes to show that Larraín created a masterful depiction of sorrow, hatred, compassion and hope through beautiful visionary metaphors and symbolism. But none of this storytelling could have been well-executed without Stewart’s phenomenal dedication to this role. Stewart is able to be extremely intense, vengeful and almost scary when the scene requires it, but she is also capable of displaying the many emotions that come with Diana’s deep sense of grief for who she once was. In one scene where Diana is standing in front of photographers after Christmas mass, Stewart goes through an impressive range of emotions playing across her face in a matter of seconds and the audience is able to feel every single one of them. There are many shots throughout the film that are exclusively close-ups of Stewart and she never once fails to show that these shots are absolutely necessary in order to understand Diana’s turmoil.
Overall, this film was a masterpiece of psychological storytelling and felt very reminiscent of Shakespearean tragedies. And while I love films like this one that forces you to look closely at the story and analyze it as you watch, that may be too much to ask of the casual viewer. However, Larraín does a beautiful job of making his audience feel Diana’s story and Stewart’s performance is mesmerizing and gut-wrenching. Every single shot is stunning and has a purpose. The score perfectly depicts Diana’s mental and emotional state, making you feel everything that she does. If this movie doesn’t receive any recognition during awards season, I will be sorely disappointed.