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November 04, 2021

Denver Film Festival - Spencer


Pablo Larrain - 2021

It would appear that what the world did not need was yet another film about the former Princess of Wales. With the television series, The Crown, a film about Lady Diana's last days starring Naomi Watts, among other works, was there anything more to say? Spencer probably is best appreciated in understanding that the biographical aspects serve as an outline, but the film is more of an imagined psychological study.

The time frame is during the Christmas holidays of 1991. Diana is first introduced driving her car to Sandringham House, where Queen Elizabeth and the royal family are all gathered. Anyone planning on waiting to see this film on a home screen is advised that many of the shots are meant to be seen in a theater. Diana's car is first glimpsed from a distance driving through the Norfolk countryside. Larrain has several shots at various points where Diana is seen from a long distance. Diana admits to herself that she is lost, not recognizing the area where she had grown up. The car serves as a reminder of Diana's untimely death. Her sense of being lost extends to her navigating the rules of the House of Windsor, and her rebellion against the restrictions. The film is deliberately titled Spencer as it is about Diana reclaiming herself.

A pearl necklace as a suffocating noose is repeated. Diana also imagines Anne Boleyn, the best known of Henry Viii's ill-fated wives. All activity is supervised by the equerry, with everything scheduled for exact times, with traditions to be honored. In a Christmas Eve with sons William and Harry, Diana explains how for royalty there is no past, present and future, only past and present. Steven Knight's screenplay further teeters into psychological horror when Diana makes a nocturnal visit to her abandoned family estate, illuminated only by flashlight.

Unlike Natalie Portman in Jackie, who could almost pass for Jacqueline Kennedy, it may be an advantage for Spencer to have Kristen Stewart only resembling Diana in the choice of the familiar hair style and wardrobe. I think this works in the film's favor to help keep the events as depicted in the film from entirely taken literally. As the virtually unmovable equerry, who sees himself as the protector of the royal family and its secrets, Timothy Spall, provides an almost intimidating presence. Johnny Greenwood's score vacillates between classical chambers music similar to that composed by Henry Purcell, to more avant-garde, discordant sounds, emphasizing Diana's distress. The film is visually very formal, with Larrain frequently favoring lateral tracking shots. The constant sense of enclosure, of physical and restrictions, are such that the closing scene, with a car singalong, provides a much needed burst of relief. After several glum days among the royals, Mike + The Mechanics brings the real holiday cheer.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 4, 2021 07:24 AM


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