Truth be told, I signed up for this screening solely because of Kristen Stewart’s depiction of Princess Diana. I’m not one who cares about the British monarchy. I barely paid attention to either the anointment of Diana or her death, although I do vividly remember seeing it in print …because it was being used as kitty litter at the pet adoption agency I visited shortly after moving to Chicago. I had a panic attack when my wife tried to walk me through the primary Harrods shop, back when it housed -all- of the Diana memorials, solely because of how populated it was. I haven’t even watched Pablo Larraín’s initial film in his ‘(doomed) princess’ trilogy, JACKIE (2016). Consequently, I expected to find SPENCER well-made, but not terribly engaging.
I certainly did not expect it to be a brilliant, skewed take on THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER. While I often read a lot of Greenaway influence into works, I think it’s undeniable here, as Greenaway’s film was explicitly about the suffocation that climate invoked, the prison one is placed in when bending the knee, and SPENCER is all about feeling trapped, about being boxed in and unable to breathe, and similarly about obligation and servitude, while also mimicking THE COOK, THE THIEF, HIS WIFE & HER LOVER’s visual tropes, notably making Diana the camera’s magnet, fixated on following her across rooms and through walls, flat-framing her, exchanging Gautier for Chanel, even color-coordinating her wear with the wallpaper and meals, such as the inaugural dish served at the opening of the three day Christmas decadence: pea green soup capped with a white foam, while she’s attired in a pea green frock lined in white. Also, her primary confidant and connection throughout this debacle? The chef; food being her only comfort apart from her sons.
SPENCER is a bold tale, singularly focused on Diana mentally spiraling downward, unfurling, and realizing that she’s rebuking this life, struggling to return home and to her roots. She’s opting-out, but yet is still trapped. It’s a story of acknowledging service, service to one’s family, to one’s nation, and of knowing yourself and unceremoniously rejecting your place in that hierarchy.
I’m on record as being a Kristen Stewart booster but even I was a bit on the fence about having her portray Diana, but she’s a goddamn revelation in the role, all wild, sad eyes and angered and antagonistic in a way I’ve never seen from her. It’s brilliant casting and writing, with deft camerawork, and surprisingly one of my favorite films of the year.