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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

Spencer

A Run Towards Shelter & An Act Of Rebellion


See It Or Skip It: See It


Pablo Larrain’s Spencer is not the Princess Diana film the world wants but it’s absolutely the one we need. Nobody wants to see someone so beloved fall apart so fiercely but we all owe it to her to at least try to understand what she went through.


Set over the course of 3 days (Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day) at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate, submission for tradition is ordered for the so-called Christmas festivities. Everybody knows the game and everyone is willing to play. Everyone except Diana. Portrayed with such gentle radiance and yet such ferocious fire, Kristen Stewart practically gift wraps Diana as well as the best performance of her career. To watch Spencer is to tear the wrapping paper with a vengeance. By the time the first tear finishes, nearly everyone has arrived at Sandringham. First the inspectors with their torches, then the palace staff bringing in trunks of fresh fruit and lobsters (both the size of war machinery), and finally, the royal family.


Only, sweet Diana is late. She decided to drive herself to the Queens Estate to get some breathing room and a sense of normalcy. She looks so tiny driving in her little car as she pulls into Sandringham. Despite growing up in a nearby manner that’s all boarded up, all of Norfolk looks different to her now. It’s only when she sees “Bertie”, a scarecrow she made when she was little and wrapped in her estranged father’s coat, does she realize she’s close to Sandringham. Diana’s wardrobe has already been delivered by this point with each outfit possessing a tag that reads P.O.W. This stands for Princess Of Wales but by this point, Diana is a prisoner of war as her marriage to Charles is long dead though legally standing. Only he has a separate life at this stage. Diana’s life is to stand inside her own shame, anger, and embarrassment towards her husband's betrayal. She is subjected to staring down her husband's mistress outside the church after the Christmas morning service. A gripping exchange that will make your heart beat faster than any jump scare you remember.


Diana seeks comfort in her various allies. Given the gravity of the psychological terrorism that surrounds her, 5 is quite a lot. First and foremost, she has her two boys who will always be the brightest light and love of her life. The chemistry between the three is so real, the human body hasn’t enough room to observe it all intact. You’ll just find yourself so overcome with emotion, you’ll have to press both hands on your heart and keep pressing as though you're performing CPR. The beauty and tenderness between the 3 really do take your breath away. They’re in their own little world where no one can hurt them. The 3 wake up early on Christmas morning to play a game where they’re all generals and must answer questions truthfully about how they’ve all been managing during this terrible time. William and Harry’s relationship to time are not in match with their mother’s. They’re growing up faster than they realize while Diana is frozen in her chamber of heartbreak. Time stands still when there’s no way forward and time itself is a theme of Spencer.


William: “Mummy, why do we have to open our presents on Christmas Eve? Why not Christmas Day like everybody else?


Diana: I know at school, you do tenses.


William/Harry: Yeah.


Diana: There's the past, present, and future.


William/Harry: Right.


Diana: Well HERE, there’s only one tense. There is no future. Past and the present are the same things.


These moments between them are like jazz music. You don’t want to think too hard, you just want to feel good. The next time I watch Spencer, it will be the easiest thing in the world to close my eyes and listen to the 3 of them engage in chatter. William in particular has become a confidant for Diana and when she’s in pain, William immediately picks up on it. He doesn’t see exactly what she does, only that she’s in anguish.


Diana: Did you see her outside the church? (Charles Mistress, I won’t even bother typing her name).


William: Who?


Such sadness must have been felt for both of them at that moment. William’s trying to keep Diana on the ground and she no longer knows how to stay afloat.


Diana’s other allies inside Sandringham include her favorite dresser, Maggie (Blue Jasmine & The Shape Of Water’s Sally Hawkins who makes every moment she’s on-screen something greater). She’s not there to save Diana. Only Diana can save herself but she’s there to comfort her in her time of need until the royal family sends her back to London. Apparently, Diana having someone close to her is a threat of some kind. Maggie miraculously returns when Diana least expects it and a beautifully tender confession from her gives Diana a sense of validation she’s no longer ashamed of needing.


She also seeks warmth from Darren (Sean Harris), the adorable red-haired head chef who feels such compassion towards her and shows his love and loyalty through food. He doesn’t know how else to help her so he sits back and listens to what she has to say as she tries to compose herself. Finally, there’s the ghost of Anne Boleyn. The former Queen of England whose husband had her beheaded so he could marry his mistress. Diana is freaked out by any possible comparisons of course but as she descends into madness, she grows a kinship towards this spirit who she grows to realize that she is a friend more than a threat. The real threat comes from Boleyn’s biography being placed on Diana’s bed as a warning by Major Gregory (Timothy Spell). He’s there to keep tradition in order and Diana’s refusal to show up on time is as much a run towards shelter (No matter how brief) as it is an act of rebellion.


The hair and makeup of Spencer are bound to get an Oscar nomination but Spell’s in particular really knocks you down in fright. Every time he corners Diana, it’s as though she has to spend a god-awful weekend at the White House with Donald Trump breathing down her neck. The spell is no stranger to villainous roles but his work in Spencer really separates him entirely from anything he’s ever done. He’s just so frightening, the way he stares at Diana is so dangerous it’s no wonder Diana is rebelling.


The afflictions of her circumstances go beyond Charles at this point. It’s everything and nothing. It doesn't matter that her former house is all boarded up, in ruins, and infested with rats. She’s so far removed from who was and now she can’t even remember who that person is. She HAS to go home. She just has to, no matter the coast. She breaks into her formal home and walks around like the ghost she’s become. She leans at the top of the stairs in confusion (Arguably, considering suicide but audiences will all have their own interpretation of the moment) and is saved from falling over by the voice of Boleyn. “They don’t know Anne Boleyn saved me last night,” Diana tells Maggie. “Sometimes the people who are no longer here are the people that hear us when no one else seems to hear our cries.”


Diana isn’t defined by her suffering but it was her suffering that has been ignored for so long, it makes sense that’s what many people are paying attention to now. The royal family claimed she was unstable throughout her marriage. They dared her to be this kind of person for so long, she started to succumb to it.


“Leave me. I wish to masturbate. Tell them I said that.”


I’m sorry, that line ABSOLUTELY had to be in Spencer. It’s not for the audience's shock value but for the royal families. Diana’s affliction goes beyond sadness. It’s transformed into this silent rage that Stewart has always captured with her resting porcelain face and those mysterious eyes. Diana’s blind rage starts off with that very line and then she turns away from Maggie’s replacement as she tries to escape having dessert with the Queen.


“Tell Them I’m Not Well! She shouts as she retreats deeper into the corridors. By now, she’s had to weigh herself upon arrival and undergone a horrifying hallucination in which the pearl necklace Charles bought for her (Which he also bought for The Other One) feels like a dog collar and she rips it off sending the pearls into her green soup which she eats anyway and hears the pearls crack with her teeth.


By the time Charles offers Diana yet another chance to play the game (To cooperate), Diana’s done. He rolls over a pool ball towards her as though he’s asking her to repress herself further. Diana responds by dropping the ball. Charles probably already walked out and did not hear the ball hit the floor but Diana doesn’t care.


As I was thinking about Spencer, I remember that director Pablo Larrain also directed Natalie Portman in Jackie. The style and filmmaking techniques of both films are very similar. Jackie Kennedy and Diana Spencer are both women from centuries past who helped shape the times they lived in but both films about them speak such different languages. Jackie was more about legacy and preserving history whereas Spencer is about individual identity and breaking free towards the present and the future. Jackie was filmed about a time in society that if ignored, felt disrespected. The times needed to be surrounded by everyone all the time whereas Spencer’s Diana requires so little.


“I really like the things that are simple. Ordinary. I enjoy fast food.”


Everyone is a creature of “Want” a little bit but Diana doesn’t live in that place where it’s her whole world. All she WANTS is to keep close to her what truly matters to her. Spencer for all its discomfort honors that wish. It’s not a film about her suffering but her spiraling. Suffering is this pitch blackness with no way forward but spiraling if you stop the dizziness long enough, might just give you an exit door towards a new start.


Spencer ends when Diana walks through it and out of respect for the happy ending she never got, ends there. Just like fairy tales do. Spencer is a fairy tale, a ghost story, a psychological horror, and above all, a tight squeezing the life out of someone hug that tells Diana, “we hear you now. It’s ok to not be ok. You were in the dark running from wolves who smelled your blood. We’re sorry we didn’t listen as loud as we should have. Now you're safe. We love you.”


Heggeness, Greta. “Princess Diana Film ‘Spencer’ Teases Star-Studded Cast with Brand-New Character Posters.” PureWow, 5 Oct. 2021, www.purewow.com/entertainment/spencer-character-posters.

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