Spencer

2021, Biography/Drama, 1h 51m

350 Reviews 500+ Verified Ratings

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critics consensus

Spencer can frustrate with its idiosyncratic depiction of its subject's life, but Kristen Stewart's finely modulated performance anchors the film's flights of fancy. Read critic reviews

audience says

Kristen Stewart is great in Spencer, but viewers expecting a traditional -- or even clear -- picture of Diana's life are likely to come away disappointed. Read audience reviews

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Movie Info

The marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles has long since grown cold. Though rumors of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the Queen's Sandringham Estate. There's eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game. But this year, things will be profoundly different. SPENCER is an imagining of what might have happened during those few fateful days.

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Critic Reviews for Spencer

Audience Reviews for Spencer

  • Jan 15, 2022
    The screenplay seems like it was written to be a more traditional biopic, but Larraín made it so utterly strange I found myself mostly liking it. Even the silly material (the ripping of the pearls, the casual arrival of Ann Boleyn's ghost etc.) generally works or at least never comes off too embarrassing. Also, this is easily Stewart's best performance so far.
    Alec B Super Reviewer
  • Dec 24, 2021
    This will most certainly <u>not</u> be most people's overly self-indulgent <i>cup of tea</i>. However, between the intricate sets and the beautiful scenery, some great writing around a captivating story, and a fantastically gritty score that perfectly complements the frenetic mood impelled by <i>Kristen Stewart</i>'s unique portrayal of Diana, Spencer will leave a taste that some will thoroughly enjoy.
    Ed K Super Reviewer
  • Dec 08, 2021
    Films of this nature usually aren't all that appealing to me. A character study set in the past with a lot of long sequences of characters talking about things I'm very unfamiliar with usually doesn't click in my mind unless it feels different. Spencer is the prime example of a film like this that surprisingly really worked for me. Having known the basic details of the story and having at least a brief understanding of this family's history, I was at least intrigued to give it a watch. I must say, the slow pace of this film will not work for others, but I found that all the filmmaking aspects, along with the performances, are truly what kept my eyes on the screen. There isn't much to give away about this story here. Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) is very unhappy with the fact that she will one day become the Queen. She desperately wants out of this life and the perfection of it all. Resorting to the physical harm of herself due to her confinement with no way out, this film dives deep into the mental state of this real-life figure in the 1990s. A film that relies solely on a performance can easily crumble if the outcome isn't great, but I can gladly say that this is the best performance Kristen Stewart has ever given and may ever give in her career.  Beginning in films like Panic Room as a child and eventually breaking out in the franchise everyone knows, Twilight, I could never put my finger on why her performances just weren't working for me. Films like Into the Wild or The Runaways gave her some nice material to work with, but nothing ever jumped out at me that she could be amazing. Well… when the film Happiest Season came out last year, I began to second guess myself. She was capable of delivering a very, very good performance in that film and now with Spencer, she has proven that she has grown as an actress. There were multiple scenes where I forgot I watch watching Kristen Stewart and I don't say that about many performances. I can usually always tell or get distracted by who is on-screen.  Although taking place in the 90s, Spencer still looked to me like it would feel like a period piece set in the 60s or 70s, but I was very wrong. The very fact that the grainy look over the entire film made it look like a movie that was made in the 90s, but with a much crisper image and wonderful cinematography. Even though there is a lot of good in this film, the cinematography was the largest standout to me. The way the camera captured the openness of the world around Diana, while still making the film feel confined with the excessive amounts of close-ups (in a good way), I was glued to the screen. I never thought a film like this would grab my attention as it did.  Overall, Spencer isn't going to be one of my absolute favourite films of the year, but I honestly think that's just because these types of movies don't appeal to me all that much. With that said, I have to admit that it's a very well-made film. It made sense to me when I noticed that director Pablo Larraín, who directed this film, also directed the film, Jackie, back in 2016. They are very similar in feel, but I think everything about Spencer is an improvement over that film. I can see many people finding this film boring, as not much happens, but it really came down to the look of the film, the fantastic central performance, and dialogue that surprisingly hooked me. It's now playing in select theatres and available on-demand.
    KJ P Super Reviewer
  • Nov 24, 2021
    People have been fascinated by Princess Diana since her storybook ascent from ordinary woman to being princess of England. Her 1981 wedding was watched by over 750 million people worldwide. It seemed like a dream come true, a childhood wish to be chosen from obscurity by a prince and elevated into a privileged world of wealth and power. Except Diana Spencer's real experiences were far from a dream. Prince Charles continued seeing his real beloved, Camilla Parker Bowles, a divorced woman that the royal family had (allegedly) forbidden Charles from marrying. Diana pushed back against the overbearing influence of her powerful in-laws until her tragic end in 1997 fleeing from paparazzi in pursuit. She was a figure of fascination, idealization, and pity, and the question always remained how well anyone ever truly knew this woman on her terms. Enter Chilean director Pablo Larrain, best known for 2016's Jackie, which attempted to untangle another complicated woman in conflict with the ownership of her image and identity. Spencer is Lorrain's latest is prime Oscar-bait as Kristen Stewart (Happiest Season) slips into playing the people's princess during a fictionalized Christmas retreat with the royal family. If you're familiar with Jackie, and it's a great movie that I would recommend, then Spencer feels very similar in subject and approach. I had to go back to my review of Jackie and I was stunned at how applicable several points of the review were for Spencer as well: "We're left with an immersive, impressionistic look at America's most famous first lady since it's hard to distinguish the layers of performance from the woman herself. She was used to adopting the facade of what the public expected of her, how her husband's friends looks at her with desire and dismissiveness, and the differences between her private life and her public persona. It's a fascinating glimpse into the interior space of a famous woman that so many people think they know well because of her glamour and television appearances, but do they really?" Wow is that still ever apt talking about Diana, a woman who is told to compartmentalize herself, to present one version of her to the public, the ravenous masses that all wanted a piece of her, and all have their own idealized version of her as princess, and another in private. The question arises how Diana can approach privacy inside her gilded cage. She's living a life in the public sphere as a figurehead for a country's monarchy, the mother of potential kings, and intense scrutiny both outside and within. The royals are formulated on tradition and ceremony and notably control. Things have always been this way and they'll continue to be this way because they've always been this way. Diana's life is micromanaged to an absurd degree, including which outfits she is to wear on which occasions, how much lead time is needed for family dinners, and even forcing Diana onto an archaic scale to be weighed before and after the holidays, because weight gain bespeaks a happy holiday in their opinion. Even before the royal family literally sews her bedroom curtains shut, denying Diana even a glimpse of the outside world they fear, you can relate to how much this people's princess could feel like she was locked away in a tower. The movie becomes a psychological ghost story of sorts, a woman stumbling through the rarefied halls of history and struggling to reclaim her own identity that she feels is slipping away until she cannot even recognize herself. The royals are extremely image conscious and any break from their rules is seen as a reflection of the crown and thus a repudiation of their influence. Diana is punished for having the audacity to change her dress in front of her bedroom window, never mind that the royal estate is vast. This is seen as careless attention-seeking, like Diana is courting the paparazzi to capture glimpses of her undressing. Her marriage to Charles is unhappy and coasting on ceremony and her adoration of her two children. Charles accuses her lateness as being a sign of Diana possibly having an affair. Never mind that Charles has been callously obvious about his own affair to the point that he even purchased his wife and mistress the same pearl necklace. Diana decides to wear the pearls in defiance, proving to Charles and his family that she doesn't care and will hold her head high, but at dinner, the pearls become radioactive to her and she fumbles to rip them off, like they're singing her skin. Diana's options are small here and the performative gestures of defiance remind me of those period piece romances where flitting glances and a touch of fingers constitute romantic advances. For Diana, choosing to wear a different dress is rebellion. Keeping her curtains open is rebellion. Asking that her young son not go on a family hunt and kill pheasants is rebellion. It's about recognizing the small acts and their symbolic meaning. This is also a story of a woman's declining mental and physical health. Her marriage was crumbling, she was resentful of the pressure of a family that would likely view her as an uncouth outsider undeserving of her attention and consideration. There was not a level of support for Diana, and besides her own children, her only real allies appear to be those representing the help at the massive Norfolk estate. Her best ally in the movie is Maggie (Sally Hawkins), a woman responsible for helping Diana dress herself. Maggie is her lone confidant, and when she is suddenly dismissed and replaced, Diana feels unmoored and betrayed when Charles tells her that Maggie said Diana was "cracking up." Diana is also suffering from an eating disorder and self-harming and, given the constant pressure on her to perform and all the power she has lost in her position, it makes sense that she would lash out for some semblance of control, over her body, over something tangible and her own. The biggest flight of fancy is that Diana sees none other than Anne Boleyn traipsing the halls and staring back at her in sympathy, nodding at their common ground as scapegoats for philandering husbands. While some have blanched at Stewart portraying Diana, I found the role to play to her strengths and she delivers a very good performance deserving of awards merit. Much of Diana as a character is internalized, communicated through layers of micro-emotions and gestures. She was private, guarded, and suspicious, not to mention going through tremendous mental strain, and this plays to Stewart's ability to resemble much through her subtle expressions of discomfort. Her accent is near flawless and the performance feels deeply empathetic without amounting to a bland impersonation. Stewart feels like she's barely holding it together as a woman going from one indignity to another, wanting to scream silently in every vacant room. Her speaking is very tremulous, almost as if she's unsure of whether it's safe to say every additional syllable. She's most relaxed and warm during the moments with her children, which clearly have a curative and nourishing effect on Diana. The movie is about finding the actual person beneath the headlines, and from an outsider's perspective it might be impossible. The empathetic script by Steven Knight (Eastern Promises) and the measured, evocative performance from Stewart reclaim a woman often portrayed as a saint or martyr. The technical direction in the movie is outstanding, though very reminiscent in approach to Jackie. Lorrain prefers to tether his camera to his lead character, often seeing the encroaching spaces from Diana's height and perspective, walking from room to room, and letting the studious and ornate production design provide the atmosphere of walking through, and against, thousands of years of history and tradition. The musical score by Johnny Greenwood (There Will Be Blood) is somber and eerie when it's emphasizing cellos and strings and confused me when the brassy horn section came in, making me feel uncomfortable by the discordant musical elements. Spencer is a movie where every technical element is in service of a lead performance, and not all of Lorrain's artistic choices seem to connect as smoothly. He's already given himself an immersive, impressionistic template to start with that allows for plenty of artistic room, and the movie is filled with quiet moments and metaphors that can be unpacked by some and skipped over by others. The ongoing thread of Diana wanting to return to her boarded-up childhood home is something that feels like it's meant to be much more meaningful than how it ultimately plays out. There are other symbols through, like a scarecrow or the biography of Ann Boleyn or Diana, during what I assume is a feverish dream, consuming the pearls of her necklace in bold defiance. I found Spencer to be an enjoyable though opaque character study with enough space and consideration to dig through the layers. It feels like a spiritual sister to Jackie but I was not captivated by Spencer like I was with Jackie, a movie that stayed with me for days. I can appreciate the nuance and artistry at play with Spencer but the movie can also feel at points like watching Princess Diana's sad vacation video. Nate's Grade: B
    Nate Z Super Reviewer

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