Film Of The Month: Spencer
Director: Pablo Larrain
Stars: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry
The best biopics often don’t concentrate on the big picture preferring, instead, to use one pivotal moment to illustrate their character. This portrait of Diana Spencer takes place over a three day period in the early 90s at Sandringham Estate, her last weekend with the royals, the Christmas before she quit her marriage with Prince Charles.
An amusing opener has Diana (Stewart) pulling her sports car into a petrol station café to ask directions. ‘I have absolutely no idea where I am’ she announces to the dumb struck punters.
Arriving at Sandringham, she is dressed down by Prince Charles (Farthing) and is reunited with her sons William (Nielen) and Harry (Spry). Ever-present is purse-lipped equerry Major Gregory (Spall) who has been advised to keep a beady eye on her. Diana finds some solace at least with devoted assistant Maggie (Hawkins) and the kindly head chef Darren (Harris). In her room she finds a biography of the ill-fated Ann Boleyn which she fears may have been planted.
Larrain, whose ‘Jackie’ provided an intimate portrait of Jackie Kennedy the week after JFK’s assassination, delivers another intimate and intense study of a woman in the public eye, worlds removed from standard royal portraits, often playing more like a Polanski psychological thriller, albeit one that admits cleansing chinks of light. But Steven Knight’s screenplay isn’t a hagiography: this is a complex portrait of a conflicted young woman.
Stewart, not an obvious choice, certainly not from anyone on this side of the Atlantic, nevertheless is uncanny as Diana, stabbing at her lines in a hushed, rushed voice conveying Diana’s vulnerability and defiance as she tries to navigate this arcane, oppressive and eerily timeless environment in which she observes ‘past and present are the same thing’. Jonny Greenwood’s score, which ranges from stately strings to more free form jazz, ably underscores Diana’s state of mind.
Follow David on @DWill_Crackfilm