Spencer Is a Tragic, Honest Love Letter to Princess Diana

Kristen Stewart Astonishes in Pablo Larraín’s Masterful ‘Spencer’

The very thing we run from will kill us in the end. Depression is a three-headed serpent that can be almost impossible to defeat. According to director Pablo Larraín and writer Steven Knight, nobody listened to Princess Diana. Prince Charles gaslit her throughout their marriage and things continued to crumble from there. Diana’s separation from Prince Charles brought forth insecurities that led to her self-destruction. Spiraling downwards towards borderline personality disorder, Diana, Princess of Whales, led a tragic life that’s heartbreakingly rendered in Pablo Larraín’s spiritual successor to Jackie

Someone once told me, nobody really cares if you’re happy, they only care to see you act like you’re happy. Diana needed help that exceeded beyond the typical hug or pat on the back. The space Diana required was ignored. The socialite demands of Royalty strips Diana of her individualism, leaving her a shell of the woman she wants to be. Like Jackie, Larraín cuts the sides of the frame into two halves while filming vast open land or lush corridors. All the beauty surrounding Diana can’t conceal the feeling of entrapment in her soul. Shot in almost all-natural light, cinematographer Claire Mathon embraces Pablo Larraín’s signature slow-burning nightmare approach, elegantly transferred to the screen. 

Sandringham Estate of Terror

Diana (Kristen Stewart) is trapped within a household that cares not for her
A castle turned psychological prison

Princess Diana is sent to the Royal family Sandringham estate during Christmas weekend, where the film almost entirely takes place. The estate turns into a bit of a haunted house, plaguing Diana’s mind with memories from a happy childhood that’s no more. Now an independent adult, Diana’s family’s insistence on dependency is suffocating. Ironically all of the surveillance is for her protection from the paparazzi, the people who may have caused her limousine driver to crash into the wall. 

As correct as the family may be regarding the media, it was an amalgamation of Diana’s over-controlling peers, plus the prying public that have led to her death far before her actual demise. Johnny Greenwood’s score plays off-kilter tracks that you’d often hear in a blues bar, not during a scene when a character has a psychotic breakdown, making the audience feel intentionally uneasy. The dreadful horror Mico Levi brought to the table with Jackie is missing, but Mr. Greenwood’s rising strings of terror on certain occasions more than more than makes up for her absence. 

Spencer’s effectiveness is almost placed entirely on the shoulders of Kristen Stewart’s performance. I’m delighted, if a bit shocked to say, she cracks a grand slam. It’s rare to see an American pull off an English accent with such aplomb. Ms. Stewart’s dialect coach should be handed an Oscar along with Kristen herself, as her voice is almost impeccably similar to the actual Princess Diana. The never-ending sorrow on her face tells is a story itself, where the role may have taken a toll on Ms. Stewart. I certainly hope for her sake it didn’t, though I think it’s safe to assume Kristen Stewart has a nomination for the golden statue in the bag. 

A Strong Supporting Cast to Aid Its Lead

Kristen Stewart as Diana (right) and Sally Hakwins as Maggie (left)
Image courtesy of Neon

The cast alongside Ms. Stewart aren’t as staggering, but they indeed leave an impact. Timothy Spall’s Major Alistar Gregory is mesmerizing as the sympathetic yet cold authoritarian assigned to monitor all of Princess Diana’s actions. When Diana calmly lashes out at him, the lines are blurred on who to root for. On the one hand, Diana deserves her personal space; on the other, it’s clear from Mr. Spall’s face that his character has doubts about the morality of his position. The only one who understands Diana is her assistant Maggie, played beautifully by Sally Hawkins. Ms. Hakwin’s noble face and gentle voice exhibits the empathy Diana required when the rest of the world shunned and shamed the real her. The only other place Diana feels comfort is in her children. 

A strength Spencer has that Jackie was missing is giving its protagonist something positive to latch onto. I give Mr. Larraín an enormous amount of credit for not making Jackie an exploitative tale about someone overcoming tragedy to become a beacon of hope for the people. Jackie is an honest portrayal of a damaged human being with sizable resentment issues. The good in Jackie Kennedy was nowhere to be seen, however Spencer lets us know how much of a compassionate woman Princess Diana was. She legitimately loved to play with her children more than anything in the world. Her attempts at sabotaging her son’s quail hunting sessions is an act of love for all living things on this planet is a statement against the banality of machismo that she didn’t want her boys to embrace. 

A True Portrayal Complete With Flaws To Make Princess Diana Human

Kristen Stewart's Diana in an emotional state of disarray
Things are going to get heavy

A person is a person and hero worship is a dangerous rabbit hole to dive into since it minimizes the struggles an individual must come across every day. We all try to figure out who we are, yet it’s the ones we think we love that stop us from reaching our potential. All Diana wanted, in the end, was to walk among people without being placed on a newspaper cover. Her life is one where the needs of the public outweighed the needs of herself by everyone else’s standards. How any of this relates to her death is metaphorical, for it’s more important to understand the good woman Princess Diana was more than the juicy tabloids. 

I was 11 when Princess Diana died, but I still remember how much the press invaded her life and how her death was result of the paparazzi blinding her driver. Spencer is a cautionary tale about the lack of humanity people can have for one another. Diana’s physical demise isn’t depicted in the film. It’s clear that Pablo Larraín’s affection for Diana is burning with a passion. He wants us to remember, in its final moments, the compassionate woman she was. There’s an importance to Diana’s maiden name. Spencer isn’t merely a birth name, but Diana’s need to reassert her individualism. The chain to cut herself from Charles and his royal enablers. The heartache Mr. Larraín embodies in Spencer is infectious and is still very much alive in my mind after seeing the film. 

Written by Mike Crowley

Mike Crowley is a full member of the Chicago Indie Critics. He periodically produces video content for and writes weekly film reviews for his publication You'll Probably Agree. He also writes content for Film Obsessive from time to time. You can follow him on Twitter, Tik Tok, and Instagram @ypareviews

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