Spencer review – Stewart gives it all
Sometimes you just need a simple solution; you have to get to something with minimal effort. For an easy Oscar, it’s the royal family. Play a royal, make a movie about a royal and their nominations / awards galore. Do not believe me ? Judi Dench gave what is essentially a glorified cameo to Shakespeare in love (a total of eight minutes of screen time) and ended with an Oscar. Helen Mirren, Colin Firth and a host of others can all attest to the victories / nominations that come from playing the Royal Family, and this is also true of television.
Pablo Lorrain doesn’t do so much biopics as he does fantasies based on real people. Here we are told that the following film is a “fable based on real tragedy”. We follow Diana, Princess of Wales over Christmas as she tries to fight her desire to be a good mother and the ever-present gaze of royal protocol.
Kristen Stewart is getting all the applause for her turn as Diana, and it’s not hard to see why. She has manners and cadence of voice in a way that few others have, despite not giving a damn about the hair, she manages to suggest the figure rather than becoming the figure. Her performance and the feeling that these are all her paranoid thoughts are quite interesting and she engages in the in-your-face style that the film seeks.
Sean Harris, likewise, as a stern but ultimately human chef, is very good. Too often Harris is chosen to play roles that allow him to showcase his slender figure and harsh voice, but here he’s a much nicer person. Coupled with a small role of Sally Hawkins, there is the potential for a portrayal of someone from the top who really belongs at the bottom.
But the film is far too shy to go crazy. A little like Jackie, putting a spotlight on a woman in the shadow of her powerful husband, intense family and many adventures is an interesting concept. Jackie Kennedy and Diana have points of mutual crossover. While the film never fully engages with either of these ideas – is it paranoid or is this a big gas lighting program by the Royal Family. The institution of the royal family is not played out for the incestuous monstrosity that it is but rather a settlement of OCD aliens who must stick to a timeline lest disaster strike.
None of them look like the royal family, maybe if you wrapped a plastic bag around your head until you passed out and then took it off you might mistake Alan Bennett’s skinny lookalike. with Charles. Certainly, even with the most generous of minds, you would say that children are like Harry and William. You could say it doesn’t matter, only Diana is one of the most recognizable women of the past fifty years, and the Royals are the last great dynasty. They are world famous, their image everywhere.
The movie has the greatest sympathy for Diana and the hellish prison she finds herself in, tells when to open Christmas presents, how to sit, what to wear for each part of the day. However, that never really examines how much Diana uses her stature for her own selfish ends. Her dresser, Hawkins (sublime but underused), is sent home for Christmas. Diana asks as a two-year-old that she be brought back – it’s Christmas, Diana.
The film also threatens to become a cross between David Cronenberg and Peter Jackson. A scene in which Diana forces pea soup into her mouth with the remains of a pearl necklace looks like a scene from Brain death. Likewise, the fact that she’s being haunted by the ghost of Anne Boleyn makes it seem like it’s going to have some horrific moments or more emotional significance, but in the end, it’s there to say – yo members of the the royal family have affairs and their wives pay. We know. The Church of England literally exists for this reason. Many times Diana sees herself as Anne, but nothing is done with this idea.
Ultimately the idea is solid and Stewart gives it all, but the film just can’t maintain its own momentum and so the whispered conversations between people and the intense follow-up shots fail to register as they should.