Latest Review – Spencer (LFF 2021) (65th BFI London Film Festival)

SPENCER

Dir. Pablo Larraín

HEADLINE GALA

Following 2019’s Ema, director Pablo Larraín now makes a welcome return to the London Film Festival with the much anticipated biographical drama, Spencer, an intimate and hypnotic psychological chamber drama driven by a superb, career-best central performance by Best Actress Academy Award front-runner Kristen Stewart as the fragile and troubled Princess Diana.

Set over the course of the three-day Christmas festivities at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in 1991, Spencer is a cold, claustrophobic yet beautifully crafted character study of a woman trapped in a suffocating and nightmarish cycle of scandal, tradition and Royal protocol.

Expertly written by Stephen Knight, the film is a delicate and often rather voyeuristic look at a fragile woman on the edge; a woman who just wants to be a loving mum to her two sons and enjoy a normal family life, though has been driven to the verge of a breakdown by a scandalous marriage, unsympathetic in-laws and scheming members of staff ordered to observe and report her every move. Everyone seems out to get her, and she desperately needs to escape for her own sanity.

Delicately shot by cinematographer Claire Mathon, putting Stewart on screen for the vast majority of the film – often in tight, observant close-ups – and accompanied by a eerily discordant score by Jonny Greenwood to emphasise Diana’s struggles, Larraín’s raw and at times heartbreaking film is a far cry from your average warm and cosy upstairs-downstairs Royal drama, instead delivering a compelling, poignant and chillingly original portrait of a Royal in crisis.

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