Following Princess Diana over Christmas weekend in 1991, Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is no biopic. Instead, it is a snapshot of a pivotal three days in her life, showing just how in flux things were—and how the other party involved would refuse to recognize any of it.
More than anything, Spencer is quiet. It’s also deafening. Within the continuum between those two, it allows the audience the space to feel. It’s a profoundly human film going both ways, and in that sense, it sets itself apart from other movies because it forms an almost innate connection between viewer and film.
Spencer appeals to the humanity in all of us primarily through observation, utilizing close-ups and hanging onto each and every facial expression. Though the film has incredible dialogue, its main story is told through Diana’s face and actions—the minutiae that would otherwise be missed in an instant in real life is put under a microscope. Even at larger gatherings, it’s as if the other people present don’t even exist.
There’s an overwhelming amount of emotion in the movie, and it almost hurts to see the pain portrayed on-screen with the knowledge of what’s going to happen in just six years. All of the little things done to Diana begin to add up—the book of Anne Boleyn surreptitiously being left in her room, the sewing up of her bedroom curtains, and the removal of the only staff member that she’s close to—Maggie, portrayed by Sally Hawkins.
The only real person (aside from her children) that Diana has on her side is Maggie, the Royal Dresser. They’ve formed an incredible bond over the time they’ve known each other, with Maggie being the only one whom she can really trust. The other people on the staff have clearly drunk the Kool-Aid and are unwilling to bend the rules with Diana, while Maggie is understanding and loving towards her—the polar opposite of the other staff.
Her scenes with William and Harry are especially powerful, specifically on Christmas Eve when the three of them are sitting around a candlelit table in the dark playing a game. They truly understand her—even more than Maggie—and can see past the royal wall that surrounds their lives.
Well-deserving of at least a Best Actress nomination, one could talk about the incredible performance of Kristen Stewart until they were blue in the face. The thing about Stewart is that she was always an above-and-beyond actress; it’s that some people blocked her out of their vision, most likely for being at the forefront of the Twilight craze.
In Spencer, it’s clear that Stewart has worked tirelessly to nail Diana’s accent and her other seemingly minor mannerisms, as she’s absolutely fitting for the role—something that critics were initially skeptical of when her casting was first announced.
With Stewart as Diana, this film is one for the books. And while it’s, of course, a sad film in the general sense, it doesn’t leave things too somberly. The movie ends in a sadly hopeful way, with Diana finally in control of her own life for the first time, maybe ever.