“Here, there is only one tense. There is no future. The past and the present are the same thing.”Kristen Stewart, Spencer
Release Date: November 5th, 2021 | Director: Pablo Larraín
Spencer is the story of Princess Diana who, with an already frail mind, agrees to accompany the royal family for their Christmas celebrations. Diana, surrounded by the ghosts of the past and the future, struggles with maintaining her decorum. Through stunning visuals and nuanced portrayal of Princess Diana’s struggles, Spencer allows its audience to gain a sense of the hardships of the beloved Princess while questioning the sanctity of the royal family.
I used to classify myself as an ardent fan of the British monarchy. Now, as I’ve gotten older and my historical interests have moved substantially eastward, I realize that I should now define myself as an ardent researcher of British monarchy. However, the reason I could never be a historian is that I find myself more concerned about the mindsets of these people and what truly drove their actions more so than the historical impact of their actions. I tend to view historical figures as characters in a story and the reason that I enjoyed Spencer so much was that it was a deep dive into the mind of a well-known public figure. So, in order to truly give this movie the praise and criticism that it deserves, I have to view this movie as a character study. This ultimately means that the plot is not necessarily telling an action-packed story but rather that the plot is used to develop a character (i.e. a character driven plot).
I’ve often said that character driven plots are difficult to portray on mediums such as film because it’s hard to explicitly show the audience what a character is thinking the way that books can. However, there are those rare films that manage to convey the change in a character using the plot to guide them instead of letting obvious choices be presented to the character and explicitly having them choose. This movie thrives on the implicit unless it needs to be explicit. At the point in history that this movie is centered around, rumors that Diana and Charles are going to get a divorce are prominent in the country and these rumors and Diana’s stress serve to fracture the carefully cultivated relationships that Diana has with the royal family.
Even though I wasn’t alive during Diana’s lifespan, her life was so carefully documented by magazines, books, and interviews that I was able to paint a very tentative picture of her. Diana was clearly a very socially anxious person. She wanted to please everyone but was firm in her beliefs and that’s why the people loved her. She understood what it was like to be a nonroyal in Britain. She also demonstrated the strain that being a member of the royal family had on her mental well-being. She was constantly under stress and Kristen Stewart portrayed that in a way that had the audience captivated on not only her movements, but those rare moments of dialogue.
The main reason I was hesitant to watch this movie is that people tend to think that British history is all entwined without actually trying to create a character from the actual person. In this film, the addition of Anne Boleyn worried me because I thought it might fuel the rumors that Diana was killed at the behest of the royal family. Instead, the character of Anne Boleyn was there as a confirmation of Diana’s suspicions that she was being replaced in Charles’s heart. She was solely there to provide comfort to Diana that she was not crazy to feel what she did and the film did a tremendous job of tying the two women together.
While this movie is a character study that does portray Diana’s struggles well; it does tend to oscillate between overtly calling Diana “crazy” and obviously showing her flights as depiction of trauma. There were parts that were incredibly moving, such as Diana imagining her friend when she’s lonely, showing that she has no one to truly talk to. There were also parts that were extremely confusing because the film didn’t make it clear what was real. Overall, the movie was inconsistent in its depictions of Diana as a whole person but allowed the audience to feel her burdens. The problem with the inconsistencies is that it’s almost impossible to find the Diana that had an entire nation in love with her. This movie makes it feel like she’s a burden to everyone and that more than love her, the people pitied her. Maybe there was some of both in her real life, but in order to maintain an acceptable run time, the audience loses what makes Diana truly lovable and great.
This movie was extremely enjoyable to me despite the character inconsistencies. It served as an acceptable character study without losing the attention of the audience. The visuals were stunning and the dialogue moved the plot and didn’t feel meaningless. The movie was carefully thought out and Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of such a prominent figure was phenomenal. She walked the line between joy and depression so expertly and I forgot that I was watching the same actress who played Bella Swan. This movie is definitely worth a watch if you – like me – love to learn as much as you can about people’s motives.