This review contains spoilers
The problems that I had with Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer,” the new Princess Diana biopic that was released today, walked into the theater with me. I suppose I was expecting a new vision of Diana Spencer or perhaps something that would comment more on the society that made her so beloved and so controversial. While I may have been disappointed by what Larraín chose not to do, what he does choose to do does fabulously well.
This movie is the type of biopic that presents a short, highly consequential moment in the life of its subject, much like Larraín’s 2016 film “Jackie,” which chronicled a pivotal moment in Jackie Kennedy’s life. In “Spencer,” we follow Diana at what was probably her most vulnerable time. This is a Diana who is no longer the newly beloved princess, yet she is still not separated from Charles Philip Arthur George, which postpones her becoming the symbol of modernity and individualism as she later is. She knows her husband is cheating on her, but she also knows that she’s expected to simply live with it.
The movie relies heavily on Kristen Stewart in the eponymous role to be able to relay the inner turmoil that Diana is coping with. Diana is such an iconic figure and so beloved that it might seem like an obvious Oscar-bait role, but I don’t think that’s the case. This is a difficult role for any actor to take on. Diana is shown at her least confident and most paranoid, and outside of her children, she has no one to confide in, yet Stewart is able to achieve the nearly impossible task of displaying a strong person when they are at their most broken.
One scene in the movie highlights this well, when Stewart is examining herself as Diana in a mirror; when she turns around, I saw Diana, both because of the incredible makeup and costume work but also through Stewart’s incredible control of her own body. Little moments of stunning transformation are peppered throughout.
Maybe even more impressive than her impersonation of Diana is the way Stewart manages to inject her own persona into the character. She does this so much so that one gets the sense that Diana’s journey towards personal freedom is Stewart’s too as an actor.
The film is gorgeous all around. Claire Mathon, the cinematographer from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” and “Petite Maman” shot this movie, so of course it looks fantastic. Aspects like cinematography, costuming and musical score are always serving a purpose, whether that be to emphasize the static and separate world of the royals through staid piano music or to immerse the audience in the chaotic struggle Diana is fighting within herself through rapid-fire jazz.
The whole film appears to have a fantasy-like glaze over it, as if it’s a dream that’s being recalled. Every single costume feels like something Diana might have worn at some point.
Ultimately, “Spencer” is a character study of one of the most discussed individuals of the late 20th century, and it’s that which stops it from being revelatory. Anyone that is familiar with Diana knows the decision that she will make by the film’s end, and anyone who isn’t will probably struggle to connect with the movie outside of its beautiful rendering.
There is clearly so much care that went into every aspect of “Spencer” that it’s easy to forgive the pitfalls of the film’s unoriginal concept and simply enjoy it for what it is.
Matthew Salcido is the sports editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @baggyeyedguy