Saturday, April 2, 2022


Movie Name:
Year of Release: 2021
Director: Pablo Larrain
Starring: Kristen Stewart, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, Stella Gonet, Richard Sammel, Elizabeth Berrington, Laura Benson
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 6
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Synopsis and Review:
Director Pablo Larrain continues his singular career of tackling narratives focused on tumultuous times in his central character's lives. After the well received "Jackie", which gave Natalie Portman one of her finest performances, he followed that endeavor with "Ema", which while critically well received, still flew under the radar. Since then he tackled the mini-series "Lisey's Story" with Julianne Moore, and then premiered "Spencer" at the Venice Film Festival of 2021, where the film was well received, before embarking on its festival circuit. The film which takes place on Christmas Eve of 1991, focuses its attention on the progressive disenchantment and meltdown that Diana, Princess of Wales is experiencing in her life. Her relationship with her husband has become strained, due to his affair with another woman, whereas everyone at the service of the Queen treats her as if she is a woman on a verge of a nervous breakdown, and unable to care for herself. She drives to the Queen's estate in Norfolk, and her behaviors, clothing, what she eats, where she sits and even what she says, are thoroughly scrutinized. While her children are also in attendance, Diana realizes that the property where she grew is nearby, which reawakens memories and feelings she had long brushed aside. Her only friend at the estate is her dresser Maggie, who encourages her to stay firm to who she is. While Diana struggles with the burden of people's expectations, the deceitfulness of her husband, and living in the public eye, she finds support and love in her children, whom she wants to protect above all.
Films and TV Shows about the British Royal Family are starting to become a staple of prestige productions, but also a topic that is borderline burned out (much like the constant adaptations of "Peter Pan" and "Robin Hood", please give it a rest). What has always been interesting about Pablo Larrain's take on iconic women, firstly with Ms. Jackie O and now with Ms. Diana Spencer, is the period which he chooses to focus on and also, the challenges these women are facing at that time. For "Jackie" the period coincided with the death of the President, and how her facade and persona had to somehow reveal the humanity of someone going through a traumatic and debilitating event such as that one in the public eye. With "Spencer", Larrain focuses his attention on the period where Diana Spencer realized the eminent dissolution of her marriage, and how her current life had been staged and artificially crafted for her to inhabit, in a way suppressing who she really was, once more, for the sake of the public eye. These are fascinating moments in time for these characters, ripe for good drama, which in this case is cleverly staged, even if it is almost too glacial to allow the characters to emote much. And though that is indeed the intention, to denounce Ms. Spencer's unshackling of this cold universe in which she was a prisoner, the film itself also feels prisoner of the environment that it creates (the film needs more of a jolt of the energy which keeps flowing through Kristen Stewart). And sadly, it's a story that has been told countless times, including Oliver Hirschbiegel's "Diana", featuring the superb Naomi Watts, and more recently the Netflix show, "The Crown", created by Peter Morgan. The film succeeds in crafting this environment, and also in providing a great canvas for Kristen Stewart to excel and bring her interpretation of Diana Spencer to life. It's a solid interpretation, one that brings the persona of the Princess of Wales to life, without excessively trying to be a copycat. She has great support from the always fantastic Sally Hawkins and Timothy Spall. While not as memorable and impactful as "Jackie", it is worth watching nonetheless.