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  • Wendy Shreve

PERFORMANCE REIGNS: SPENCER

There's an irony to the airing of Spencer (2021) immediately after the preview for Kenneth Branagh's upcoming film, Belfast. Besides the politics, the message in Spencer, duty comes before family contrasts with the inference that duty equals family in Belfast.



Director Pablo Larrain, in Spencer's opening, states that the movie is a fable that leads to tragedy. Unlike other numerous television and movie biographies, this story doesn't pretend to know the truth, only to give an impression from the Princess of Wales' née Diana Spencer's viewpoint.


Upheaval to the Royal Family, in Spencer, means that one member has brought embarrassment to Her Majesty, The Queen. Princess Diana works very hard to do her best to break taboos, assert her independence while caving to the pressures of royal life. She darts around like a frightened hummingbird, only relaxing and stopping when she's with her children, Prince William and Prince Harry (both young actors do justice to their roles).


Finally, the weight becomes unbearable over the course of Christmas weekend at the Sandringham Estate. Seeing her family's home deteriorating, behind barbed wire reinforces Diana's belief that her happiness lies elsewhere.


What works comprises Kristen Stewart's striking performance as the beleaguered Princess. Her mannerisms, voice, visible pain intermix; it's difficult to look away from her even when particular scenes beg the viewer to do so.


Supporting players, Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris and Timothy Spall play lesser-known characters. Their gravitas outshines the more well-known royals, e.g. , The Queen, played by Stella Gonet. Writer Steven Knight gives the actors little to do but watch. Princess Diana's actions, how she will resolve or dissolve her predicament, take center stage to her interaction with her husband, his family. Of the three performers mentioned above, Spall as the major domo, Major Alistar Gregory, has the meatiest role, second only to Stewart's. You want to listen to what he says even if you may not agree with him.


The English countryside, an illusionary peace, is shattered regularly by the hunters' gunshots and Diana's cackling. Thus, retreating to the grounds doesn't provide sanctuary. Given the extraordinary pressure of her expected behavior, the press, along with the household gossip, not many could cope. This Diana, nevertheless, symbolizes the Princess's self-destructive behavior where pity for her slowly becomes irritation. A line where she tells her confidante that she longs for a normal life made at least one audience member snicker--knowing the life choices that she made after her divorce.


Stridency could also be used to describe Jonny Greenwood's music much of the time. Why do composers believe it necessary to have their music overshadow dialogue, as Greenwood has done? Bring a headache reliver for those atonal moments. Elsewhere, the music morphs into a fascinating combination of classical and jazz.


One effective device, moreover, that relieves the never-ending misery involves comparing Diana's plight to the second wife of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn.


In the end, no matter how you perceive the film's execution, Kristen Stewart demonstrates she has the poise and the moxie to play the soon-to-be ex-royal.


Rated R for bulimia, self-destructive behavior including self-mutilation; disturbing hallucinations, language (even royals use the f-word), and psychological trauma. NOTE: be prepared for, if sensitive to, hand-held camera movement, used occasionally.


Now playing at a theater near you. LOCALS, you can see Spencer at the Chatham Orpheum Theater.



Earlier reviews not seen on this website (before May 20, 2021) are available on https://www.rottentomatoes.com/critic/wendy-shreve/movies or my previous blog site, featuringfilm.com


Care to share? Post or e-mail your comments to featuringfilmreviewer@gmail.com



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