SPENCER : MOVIE REVIEW
5 STARS OUT OF 5 (OUTSTANDING)
DIRECTOR : PABLO LARRAIN
WRITER : STEVEN KNIGHT
CAST : KRISTEN STEWART, TIMOTHY SPALL, JACK FARTHING
First published in Indian Weekender Feb 20, 2022
DIANA RESURRECTS WITH LARRAIN AND STEWART
First, it was Larrain's mesmerizing 'Jackie' based on Jacqueline Kennedy, now the roiling 'Spencer' inspired by the Princess of Wales, next it may well be "Meghan" - the race and class riddled gutsy tale of how the Duchess of Sussex kicked the royal bucket. Oprah, watch out ! You ain't seen nothing yet.
Kristen Stewart, in collaboration with her virtuoso director, may or may not be accused of witchcraft in bringing Diana back to life. But thanks to that sorcery called uncanny acting, Stewart is spellbinding in recreating a Diana drenched in pathos and misery, unable to cope with the asphyxiating strictures of a royalty that thrills the adoring subjects of the land. Slender shoulders pulled together, the head bowed forward and often cocked to the side, a wistful expression on the light-eyed face grading into melancholia and transacting in defiant whispers, she rebels with a Wales worth of intransigence as the entire royal staff cajole her to fall in line.
For the information of those who only recently arrived after synthesis in a gain-of-function lab, Spencer is modelled on Princess Diana whose doomed marriage with the British heir-apparent, dramatically contrasted with her international celebrity, charm and activism ; the saga culminating in a sudden tragedy with her untimely demise in a car crash.
Pic's dysphoria is as epic in scope as its time-frame is miniature. Just a few days in the Queen's palatial Sandringham estate in Norfolk, grandly decorated and evoked, with the core royal family in attendance for Christmas. No flashbacks, no flash-forwards - just this snapshot, this synecdoche, for us to figure out who this young lady really is and what is eating her alive. As in 'Jackie', the central character's closest confidante is her private attendant, their intimate connection boldly shown.
The royal entourage arrives at Sandringham, with their security detail setting up the visit like a military exercise.To all their silent chagrin, the royal daughter-in-law is still to arrive from her amateur solo journey. They sit at the long dining table with the Queen presiding, the lighting almost sepulchral and the mood wholly funereal. Somehow Diana arrives and sits after a torture of procrastination, again the last to appear as all await. It is not certain whether it is the soup that is flavorless, or the suffocating bland atmosphere that constricts her, but in desperation she tears her necklace, the dropping pearls peppering her soup which she then stuffs into her mouth in a horror show, later staggering away to vomit in a toilet. Prince Charles lectures her later in the decorous needs of the nation, but in a merciful act of spousal consideration he does not instruct her in the prescribed royal formula of how to properly vomit into the lavatory bowl ( the nation is not watching there, you see)
Director Pablo Larrain again excels with an iconic canvas, the ambition happily married with relentlessly genuine intimacy spun into poetic narration, and an instinctive, soaring empathy with the lady who commands the frame. Claire Mathon's camera achieves myriad shades of elegant pastel beauty, with a palette that is unremittingly pale and overcast, thus faithfully distilling the finest British weather. Larrain's fondness for inspired orchestra finds expression here in disquieting, edgy symphonies that sometimes engineer actual human howls to convey the music of the protagonist's soul.
The pre-finale and finale are simply superb in capturing Spencer's splendid nature. She can't bear the thought that her two little sons take part in wanton and cruel sport, supervised by their father and grandmother. How surprising that she can't understand important royal tradition ! The get-away with someone in an unguarded car carrying VVIPs occultly presages a similar future event. How unsurprising that this particular car did not suffer a fatal crash in the movie ! As the movie's parents, the writer and director give their ward, heaven and beyond at the end of that vehicular journey. The final scene, in its simplicity, power, motherliness and infinite satisfaction, is something that some other supposed elites may never understand.
U. Prashanth Nayak for Indian Weekender 17/2/22