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Spencer Review: Kristen Stewart Shines In Trippy Take On Princess Diana

Spencer is a bizarre, heartbreaking, and intriguing movie experience.

Kristen Stewart in Spencer
(Image: © Neon Studios)

While we’re currently in the midst of autumn, there’s another season coming around the corner: awards season. As such, moviegoers will be treated to some killer film projects in the next few months, all vying for nominations. Pablo Larraín’s Spencer is certainly in the mix among them, with Kristen Stewart’s performance as Princess Diana making waves at the fall festivals. And it definitely seems like a big moment for Stewart in particular given her ability to disappear into the role of the late icon.

Spencer is set in December of 1991, with Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diana celebrating the Christmas holiday with the royal family at The Queen's Sandringham Estate. With her marriage to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) in jeopardy and tension with both the public and The Crown building, we watch as Diana attempts to survive just a few days among the esteemed in-laws. 

Spencer succeeds by not pretending to be ultra-realistic.

As Spencer begins, a title card offers a warning to the audience. The movie names itself  “a fable from a true tragedy," confirming from the start that the story we’re told isn’t necessarily the way things truly went down in December of 1991 for Princess Diana and company. This allows director Pablo Larraín to leave realism behind, and elevate moments when the storytelling calls for it. As a result, the 111-minute runtime is intriguing from beginning to end.

Spencer is very much focused on Kristen Stewart’s titular character, who is in nearly every scene. But early in the film Pablo Larraín also establishes Diana as an unreliable narrator. Her paranoia is a part of the fabric of the movie, and Larraín uses these devices to put the audience in that same sense of disorientation.

One of the recurring elements that come throughout Spencer’s narrative is visions of Anne Boleyn (Amy Manson). While spending her days at Sandringham Estate, Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diana identifies with King Henry’s second wife, who was famously beheaded as a result of scandal. Boleyn appears to her a number of times throughout the movie, which helps to remind viewers not to believe everything they’re shown.

Kristen Stewart truly disappears playing Princess Diana in Spencer.

Actress Kristen Stewart had some very big shoes to fill with Spencer, especially as an American who has some separation to the events of the U.K.’s Royal Family.She truly rises to the occasion, however, especially when it comes to the late People’s Princess’ unique accent. Said accent, combined with the impeccable costume design by Jacqueline Durran, allow Stewart to disappear into her role.

Since Kristen Stewart is in nearly every scene of Spencer, it’s her responsibility to help control the pace of the movie and allow her character’s rage to slowly build throughout. And it’s yet another reason why Stewart’s performance works so well. We’re able to catch every subtle slight that happens at Diana’s expense in the movie, with the actress portraying her complicated character with impressive subtlety. 

While Kristen Stewart’s career might have begun with roles as a child actress and her tenure in Twilight, her tour-de-force performance in Spencer shows how she’s grown into a Hollywood leading lady. Her Diana seems destined to be remembered in cinema history, despite so many adaptations of the princess' story currently gracing the screen and stage.

Spencer’s direction and cinematography are gripping

In addition to showcasing Kristen Stewart’s performance, Spencer is also a showcase for Pablo Larraín’s talent as a filmmaker, and the impeccable work of the movie’s crew. Every shot is purposeful; from sweeping views of the property to quick glimpses at figures like Queen Elizabeth (Stella Gonet) and Prince Charles. 

Given the glamor of the Royal Family, Spencer highlights the extreme lifestyle that the Crown is known for – and while we’re treated to sweeping grand locations, Pablo Larraín finds a way to make these spaces feel claustrophobic. This is yet another way that the movie succeeds, empowered by the “fable” nature of this particular take on the story.

On the whole, Spencer is a bizarre, heartbreaking, and intriguing movie experience. By abandoning any claims that the movie is an accurate description of that time, both Kristen Stewart and Pablo Larraín are able to shine. And smart money says it’s going to perform well as various awards and trophies are distributed in the coming months.