‘Spencer’ captures Princess Diana’s emotional struggle in living the royal life

Review of Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer”


By Corinne Arel, Staff Writer

It’s Christmas time at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England, and Princess Diana, played by Kristen Stewart, faces inner turmoil as she makes her final decision to leave her husband, Prince Charles.

With the phrase, “A fable from a True Tragedy” first appearing on the screen, the audience is made aware that the film is a rendition of the time when Diana learns of the affair of her husband, Prince Charles, played by Jack Farthing.

Composer, Johnny Greenwood, plays intensely unsettling music, accompanied by clean-cut shots from cinematographer, Claire Mathon. A stern environment is painted by long shots of the estate’s kitchen and surrounding outsides of the estate as the Christmas Eve dinner is prepared for the royal family. This serious scene conveys to the audience the intensity of the royal family and the high standards that Princess Diana is held to.

While the royal family arrives at the estate for dinner, Princess Diana is nowhere to be found. Stewart, who embodies an astonishing resemblance to Diana, captures Princess Diana’s free spirit as she gets lost driving through the countryside of England by herself.

Diana finally makes her way back to the estate with the help of Royal Head Chef, Darren McGrady, played by Sean Harris. As Diana rushes into the front entrance for the traditional Christmas weight-in, the camera shifts from a steady, straightforward shot to an uneasy and shaky one. This abrupt change in shots displays to the audience Diana’s anxiety about spending time with not only her royal family but also her cheating husband.

While Diana does not feel welcomed by the royal family during the Christmas holiday, she befriends one of her staff members, Maggie. While the character, Maggie, played by Sally Hawkins, is not based on a specific person from Princess Diana’s life, she plays a crucial role in the film. Maggie is one of, if not the only, person who Diana trusts enough to confide in during her troubling times at the estate. Maggie and Diana’s friendship is also used as an avenue to show how the royal family continually tried to control Diana as Maggie is sent away when Diana needed her most. Despite Diana constantly asking for her, Maggie is not brought back until the royal family notices the physical effects of Diana’s emotional decline.

Diana’s anxiety and depression are accompanied by hallucinations of the wife of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn. With a striking similarity to the dynamics of Diana and Charles’ relationship, the unnerving visions of Boleyn represent the common occurrence of affairs in the royal family.

The ongoing theme of control is also shown when Diana is getting ready for the Christmas day dinner. Diana is adamant about keeping the curtains to her bedroom open while she is at the estate. After being told by several of the staff members to shut them, the curtains are sewn shut. Told they are only trying to keep her privacy safe from the press, Diana has no care for her curtains to be kept closed. With a pair of pliers, Diana cuts her curtains open to take back the little control she has over her life. Keeping her curtains open is a way for Diana to show the press what goes on, quite literally, behind the closed doors of the royal family.

While “Spencer” captures Diana’s struggles in the royal family and her marriage, it also showcases her unconditional love for her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. After Christmas Eve dinner, Diana spends time with her sons as they are excited for Santa and the holiday to begin. When asked why the royal children are given presents on Christmas Eve and not Christmas morning, Diana comments on how the estate and the royal family are constantly in a state of the past and “the present is the past.”

Towards the end of the film, Prince William is beginning to learn how to shoot a gun like the rest of the men in the royal family. Diana’s protectiveness and motherly strength shine through when she walks out in the middle of the field where the men are shooting and demands that her sons not participate.

The film ends with a heartwarming and refreshing moment with her sons. After Maggie drives Diana to the field to get her sons, she opens up about how the royal life isn’t for her, she loves the middle class and fast food. The closing scene shows Diana and her sons driving off to London, when her son asks where they are going, she simply replies, “home.”  Diana goes through a fast-food drive-thru with her sons and gives the name Spencer for the order, reclaiming her freedom and independence from the royal family.

“Spencer” is playing at Amherst Cinema until Dec. 2, 2021.

Corinne Arel can be reached at [email protected]and followed on Twitter @CorinneArel_09.