The movie SPENCER, starring Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana about five years before her tragic death, is purposefully claustrophobic, ponderous, and angst-ridden. The sound track underscores this overarching mood theme as the music creatively transitions in and out of being melodious classical to gentle jazz to cacophonous, irritating jazz before looping back to classical and so on. This effectively brought me the viewer into Diana’s troubled state of mind. Frequent closeups emphasize a sense of the heroine’s longing for intimacy and understanding from people in a family who largely have no clue about either. In this frigid relational desert, she finds an oasis of genuine connection with her two young sons and her favorite dresser (movingly played by Sally Hawkins from THE SHAPE OF WATER), a woman carrying a secret of her own. The result is a somewhat uneven, occasionally forced, narrative that takes place from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day at Sandringham House with the British Royal Family.
The Princess is clearly an outsider experiencing life with her in-laws as imprisoning and invalidating so much so that she feels driven to the edge of madness. Ms. Stewart performs excellently with what she is given to work with here, which sometimes is over-the-top melodrama and histrionics, while other times is compelling melancholy and sympathetic frustration and rage. The interiors of wherever this was filmed, which may actually have been Sandringham House, are exquisite. The physical coldness of the place, which Diana and her sons often make reference to, is an extension of the Royal family’s perpetual emotional iciness as well as that of a scowling, skulking old servant (an equerry, powerfully played by Timothy Spall) who is charged with keeping Diana on schedule and generally in line.
The acting by all the supporting players is superb, as British casts so often are. I felt proud of dear Ms. Stewart holding her own with all the talent around her. She clearly continues to hone her craft, and most certainly so with playing the tragic heroine trope.
This is a movie one needs to be in the right mood/head space for, especially for viewers who are used to constant on-screen action and/or rom com light fare. This is art house (or tries to be) psychological (melo)drama, and some of us like that sort of thing now and then.