Spencer review: A powerful depiction of a woman on the edge of madness
Spencer offers a powerful depiction of the wretched misery of Princess Diana as Kristen Stewart impersonates a woman on the edge of madness
Spencer Cert: 12A, 1hr 51mins
The Card Counter Cert: 15, 1hr 51mins
Eternals Cert: 12A, 2hrs 37mins
I love it when a film wins me over, and that’s exactly what happened with Spencer. I went in with the lowest possible expectations, in no mood for yet another retelling of the tragedy of Princess Diana.
I’d already binged my way through series four of The Crown with Emma Corrin in the role, seen endless newspaper photographs of the even more willowy Elizabeth Debicki taking over for series five and endured at least one recent documentary solemnly marking ‘what would have been the late Princess’s 60th birthday’. I was at peak Diana; just past, in fact.
And for half an hour – maybe a little longer – I saw little to change my mind. American actress Kristen Stewart seemed to be making up for her lack of height with a laboured impersonation.
By aiming for a heightened reality, Pablo Larrain gives us the most powerful depiction of the wretched misery of Diana, played by Kristen Stewart (above)
What Larrain has artfully fashioned is not so much a fable as a cautionary fairy tale of an unhappy Princess, whose bedroom curtains are sewn shut so no one can see her dressing, is weighed in public (apparently a Sandringham tradition) despite her known problems with food, and is so lonely she ends up talking to a scarecrow’s battered canvas jacket. And let’s not even mention those visions of Anne Boleyn.
Put like that, it sounds barking mad, but that’s the point. By aiming for a heightened reality, an exaggerated version of the truth, Larrain gives us the most powerful depiction of the wretched misery of Diana I’ve seen.
Paranoid, self-harming and throwing up after every meal, this is a woman on the edge of madness. Suddenly, Stewart’s big performance starts to make perfect sense. Well before the end, I could see why she’s being hotly tipped come awards season.
Paranoid, self-harming and throwing up after every meal, this is a woman on the edge of madness. Suddenly, Kristen Stewart’s big performance starts to make perfect sense
Despite the Princess’s beautifully recreated and iconic wardrobe, Spencer is still not perfect. It eventually becomes repetitive in structure, with the Princess having at least one too many heart-to-hearts with sympathetic Palace servants. But do look out for some touching scenes with her beloved boys, an unexpected declaration of love and a terrific supporting turn from Sean Harris as the Royal head chef.
There’s more fine acting on show in The Card Counter with Oscar Isaac commanding our attention as William Tell, a professional gambler, and Tye Sheridan almost as good as Cirk, the young sidekick William recruits for company as he travels from casino to casino, from motel to motel.
But why does he wrap every item of furniture in his motel room in a sheet at night? The answer almost certainly lies in his troubled past, and in particular his military service in Iraq.
The film is written and directed by Paul Schrader, best known for supplying the screenplays for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. But here, after an intriguing opening hour, he comes unstuck, ultimately failing to link past and present in a remotely convincing way.
Remember the opening screen-crawls from the Star Wars films that bring us up to date with Empire and Rebel Alliance news? Well, Eternals, Marvel Studios’ latest, has something similar at the beginning, only much shorter despite dealing with the history of the entire universe. It’s only about four paragraphs long but I was hopelessly lost by the end of it. Singularities… celestials… deviants… eternals… someone possibly called Arishem? Or was it Ajak?
Two-and-a-half long hours of cod-mythology and crash-bang-wallop, visual-effects-driven action later and despite the best efforts of a cast led by Gemma Chan, Angelina Jolie and Richard Madden, I was modestly more informed but no more entertained. Avengers fans will probably warm to it more than I did.
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