Pablo Larrain’s Spencer shows the intense internalized battle being waged against the crown, as Princess Diana’s (Kristen Stewart) agency is stolen away, putting every aspect of her life under a microscope. Isolating, alienating performance from Stewart and direction from Larrain, captures a fictional, yet a real portion of her life that attempts to hide from the public. In Stewart’s performance, we see that struggle inside her through physicality. The sulky shoulders hold the weight of the world, the downtrodden eyes staring into space longingly, or the smooth neck movements that show a heady discomfort. It’s an incredible internalized performance from Kristen Stewart that left me speechless.
The subtlety of her delivery, keeping the metaphorical Steven Knight screenplay in the script but showcases a sense of tragedy in her soul. A yearning for freedom and apathetic towards the consequences. The hallucinatory elements of the film, going for a direct metaphor from Diana to Anne Boleyn, let her give an experimental performance that plays into her anxiety. Larrain wasn’t looking to capture one period in time, but the overwhelming nature of her experience that can’t compare to any other human being. Even if Stewart’s performance keeps the pain close, it’s a grandiose look at the character of Princess Di, expressing the parts of her she couldn’t tell the public. It reads the context clues of her life and wants people to truly understand the sheer weight of being her.
The bitterness is injected into all elements of Larrain’s vision. For example, Jonny Greenwood’s score is unbalanced in a way that drives the idea for each scene and points to parts of her emotional state. It’s a phenomenal score, frankly, one of Greenwood’s best. Infusing a mix of jazz into classical baroque, that pushes the anxiety and compounding trouble her decisions dig for her. The Sebastian Sepulveda editing relies on montage and drifts the Greenwood score in and out, while beautifully interjecting dream sequences. And the hauntingly gorgeous, opaque Claire Mathon cinematography all play into the themes Larrain had in mind. The production design team recreating the Spencer manor and the home of the crown without on-location deserves a ton of praise too.
The decision to cast Kristen Stewart was risky, but it paid off perfectly. Seeing her express a scream of emotion with one brief look and no words carries this script to new places. She places so much emphasis on the subtlety and leans into the overall feel of Diana rather than doing a pure impersonation. It’s about understanding her pain, and the performance lets us into that world. We see this in her rejection of food, as food is immobilized against her, brought in through ammunition cases that cause a great divide between her and the others.
Finally, it’s a well-crafted film with a phenomenal lead performance. Larrain gives Kristen Stewart a vehicle and formulates his shot list, editing, and music all around her expressions. One of my favorite character studies in some time and an upgrade on Larrain’s Jackie.