Few women have been as dissected under the planet’s watchful eye as Diana Spencer. Lady Di, who starred in the dream wedding in 1981 to Charles, heir to the British royal throne. Diana, who quietly endured a loveless union until her divorce more than a decade later. Diana, who tragically died in a car accident, pursued by paparazzi, in a Paris tunnel.
“Spencer,” in which Pablo Larrain directs Kristen Stewart as Diana, isn’t interested in any of that. His life, the troubled relationship with the British court, the media separation and his tragic death, are already recorded for posterity in countless products for cinema, TV and theater.
Far from being a biography like “Jackie,” Larrain’s earlier work that brings a clipping of amply documented events, Jacqueline Kennedy’s days immediately after the assassination of her husband, President John Kennedy, “Spencer” is the investigation of a myth. , humanizing it while surrendering to the purest fantasy.
Steven Knight’s script focuses on the Christmas weekend of 1991, when Diana had already made the decision to end her marriage to Charles. But first, she must comply with this last protocol, face once more the indifference of a family that demonstrates, with suffocating passive aggressive cruelty, that she never belonged to that world.
Although it may suggest a more formal biography, the text is conducted by Pablo Larrain like a true horror film. All alone, her marriage a carcass dragged along by convenience, Diana sneaks through endless corridors and sumptuous halls. Not even the solitude of his quarters could afford him a moment of privacy.
It is in this moment of sheer panic, with the constant shadow of the ubiquitous paparazzi cameras and the eating disorders that slowly undermined her health, that Diana searches for the fragments that hold onto her sense of identity.
They are the ruins of the mansion where she spent her childhood, the object of fond memories but also the mark of everything she lost. A coat stolen from a scarecrow. The few moments when she tries to be nothing more than a mother to her children, seeking as much as possible for a semblance of normality. It’s his relationship with one of the chambermaids, played by Sally Hawkins, an ingenious solution to carrying out internal dialogue without the film becoming a monologue.
It’s no revelation that the world’s most famous, photographed and admired woman was in serious trouble, trapped in a captivity where her shackles weren’t metal chains but fine dresses and expensive jewelry. Larrain, however, does not seek subtlety in his portrayal of a princess struggling with her inner demons.
Every camera movement, every arid scenario, tries to translate the state Diana was in at that moment. There is a fine line between good taste and vulgar bizarreness in placing such a public figure in such a stylized and unreal setting. “Spencer” is sometimes excessive and threatens, again and again, to cross that line.
The film, however, remains firmly on its way thanks to the superlative work of Kristen Stewart. Excluding the understated hairstyle, the deep look and the slightly arched neck, the actress did not seek the princess’s physicality. What she achieves in her performance is understanding her fragility and the effort she made to stay sane when her whole world had already crumbled.
To that end, Kristen, who over the last decade has proved to be one of the most interesting actresses of her generation, chose to embrace the most surreal, unlikely and disturbing options in the narrative. She understands that “Spencer” is not intended for a second to be a faithful portrayal of Diana’s life under the heavy protocol of British royalty: It’s a film that seeks to capture sentiment, not some historical accuracy.
In this department, we are already well served with the brilliant series “The Crown”, which remains the audiovisual product that perfectly captured the life of Queen Elizabeth II and her surroundings. Its fifth season, scheduled for next November, shines the spotlight on Diana, with Elizabeth Debicki as her frighteningly faithful representation.
In “The Crown”, however, the royal family is not portrayed as ghosts, silent apparitions that exist for the torment of the Princess of Wales. “Spencer” goes even further, causing her, yes, to be referred to from the point of view of the Queen and her entourage as an apparition, an unseen and unseen presence, less a voice and more a whisper.
Kristen Stewart maintains the fluidity of the plot even as “Spencer” assumes the palace is less of a royal haven and more of a haunted house. His paintings, books and sculptures are a permanent reminder that other corpses passed through his chambers. Diana has a noisy communication with the ghost of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, also abandoned by her husband, later beheaded for treason.
It is on this threshold of reason and madness that Kristen Stewart finds the balance to build her Diana away from the formality of a biography and closer to a survival horror, a psychological “Resident Evil” with the princess trapped in a literal zombie-infested mansion. and metaphorical.
It’s no surprise that “Spencer” has its best moments precisely when it surrenders itself without strings to the absurd. It’s a triumph less of Pablo Larrain’s heavy hand and more of his protagonist’s exceptional talent.
That’s when “Spencer” also opens an opportunity to discuss affection, empathy and generosity, letting the myth finally become a real person, with flaws, torments and triumphs. It’s not, after all, about rewriting history – although that’s also in Pablo Larrain’s bag of tricks.
It’s about painting an image of Diana that is neither the saint nor the victim, but an exceptional woman, determined to regain the reins of her destiny. Not to mention the merit, not least, of giving Kristen Stewart the opportunity to play the mother of real people, not something called Renesmee.