Kristen Stewart in Spencer (2021)
Pablo Larraín and Kristen Stewart work wonders together in Spencer. A portrait of a beloved icon is painted in a thoughtful, curious, surreal way. The film has an abundance of character and wit. The clarity in Larraín’s vision, coupled with Stewart's laser-focused performance as Princess Diana, make for a resonating psychological drama. The story takes place over the Christmas holidays in 90s England, at a point where Diana’s marriage to Prince Charles is crumbling and the world around her grows even more coldly watchful. The film is not confined within a typical biopic structure; rather than land on all the traditional points about a real-life figure, Spencer experiments with style. Stewart delivers her most accomplished work to date as she absorbs the essence of Diana. It’s a brilliantly unexpected performance that reveals more layers of wit, poignancy, and delightful awkwardness as the film unravels alongside her.
Contrasting the pastel palette of the palace is an often spooky-looking exterior, with coats of fog and a haunting depiction of Diana’s old home. With stunning cinematography by Claire Mathon and a rich score composed by Jonny Greenwood, the film looks and sounds gorgeous. Aspects from the costume design to the hair and makeup are subtly done, completely in tune with Larraín's assured vision. Captured at a time when Diana has been in the royal family for nearly 10 years, the film lives imaginatively inside her head as she experiences mental exhaustion, wanting so desperately to break free. Stewart's haunting, playful performance powerfully carries the narrative to fruition. Alongside strong supporting performances by Timothy Spall and especially Sally Hawkins, who shares a delightful scene with Stewart nearing the film's close, the ensemble work like magic. The blend of realism with surrealism gives Spencer a distinct perspective that stands out as its own creation from other portrayals of Diana.
Spencer has its premiere on September 15th at the Toronto International Film Festival. TIFF21 runs September 9-18, 2021.