“Where the f**k am I going?”Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart)
Those are the first words uttered by Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) in the royal psychological biopic Spencer. While the Princess is literally trying to navigate her way to the royal house for christmas, the phrase also describes her metaphorical state of being.
The Princess of Wales is celebrating the holidays with the Royal family in the winter of 1991, just shortly before she had decided to leave her husband, Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). We follow Diana as she traverses her prison of opulence, beautifully designed by Guy Hendrix Dyas, with each cell more exquisitely and meticulously laid out than the last. It’s this rigid tradition and methodicism that drives the Princess (and the narrative) to increasing levels of instability.
While there are moments of humor and well timed barbs throughout, these are only defense mechanisms used by Diana to prevent an all out psychotic break. Though Spencer does show Diana’s deteriorating mental state as she succumbs to the pressures and expectations of fulfilling her duty to the crown. Visions, ghosts and dream sequences are aplenty in a film that resembles The Shining more than it does a traditional biopic.
Kristen Stewart manages the impeccable feat of acting closely enough to the real princess while using the more fantastical elements of the film to add her own dramatic flair to the character. It’s clear that Stewart pulls from her experience as an overwhelmed teen idol from the Twilight series to achieve Lady Di’s level of exasperation. Despite a no holds barred frustration that emanates throughout, Stewart’s performance is still nuanced and certainly one of the most intriguing acting displays of the year.
No matter your knowledge of the British Royal Family (I personally have none), Spencer is one of the most visually stimulating and insightful films about the currency and cost of stardom in years.
The Silver Lining
After a three year hiatus, composer Jonny Greenwood returns with the most spectacular score of the year. Greenwood combines his knack for sinisterly classical compositions with new age jazz to create a beautifully haunting score. The decision to take inspiration from these two genres also works as a orchestral undercurrent to the clashing morals and values in the film’s narrative.
Classical music is trained and engrained into one, and is relatively consistent so an audience knows what to expect. Jazz, on the other hand, is improvisational and played with spontaneity and heart. The celebratory cacophony of these two styles reflects the Royal Family’s need for stability and legacy versus the Princess Diana’s desire for unstructured freedom. Greenwood’s ability to translate these themes into musical arraignments in Spencer makes it’s clear that he is deserves a place in the film composer hall of fame.
Spencer will release in select theaters on November 5th.