One might wonder how many biopics about one woman’s life are needed – in a span of eight years, no less – and understandably question what purpose Spencer could possibly serve. But the recent events surrounding the Royal Family give merit to Pablo Larraín’s so-called “fable” exploring the resignation of a princess.
The film, which is competing for the Golden Lion, plays out during three days at Christmas. Diana and Charles’s marriage is in shambles; the entire family appears to be conspiring against her. Equerry Major Gregory (Timothy Spall) is assigned to Sandringham House to keep an eye on the princess. Every bit of Diana’s life is micro-managed and each attempt she makes at autonomy is seen as a national affront.
It is heartbreaking to see the damaging effects of tradition being placed above a person’s wellbeing. The script is the film’s strong suit, allowing for moments of dark humour as well as reflection. The imagery is laced with symbolic value: a pearl necklace elicits the same sensation as a noose or guillotine.
Spencer almost defies genre as it fluctuates between drama, dark comedy and at times even horror. Regardless of the audience’s knowledge of the subject’s fate, there is a sinister feeling lurking throughout the feature, intensified during every glimmer of hope that teases Diana with the possibility of reclaiming her freedom.
With all eyes on Kristen Stewart’s interpretation of Lady Di – a scrutiny not unlike that to which her character is subjected – it is inevitable that we get the sense she is putting on a performance. However, that does not necessarily make her portrayal inauthentic. In an environment with these harsh rules, where the walls have ears, there undoubtedly is a performative element to every interaction.
Stewart clearly worked hard on the accent and micro expressions. Just like Natalie Portman, who starred in the director’s 2016 tale of Jackie – which also premiered at Venice – this leading lady will surely be rewarded with an Oscar nomination. She is definitely a strong contender for the festival’s Volpi Cup for Best Actress.
Spencer is released nationwide on 5th November 2021.
For further information about the event visit the Venice Film Festival website here.