Diana, Princess of Wales was an icon; her charity work, style and relationship with her sons Prince William and Prince Harry making her an endearing presence to the public within the British royal family. She did face scrutiny too from many for her tumultuous private life that followed her until her untimely and tragic death in the summer of 1997 caused by a car crash in Paris. Pablo Larraín's Spencer is a character study of one of the most famous faces in British history that doesn't shy away from difficult areas of her life. 

December, 1991. The marriage of Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) and Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) has long since grown cold. Though rumors of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the Queen's Sandringham Estate. There's eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game. But this year, things will be profoundly different. Spencer is an imagining of what might have happened during those few fateful days.

Kristen Stewart is the real driving force behind Spencer, delivering a mesmerising and fearless performance as Diana. Striking not only a physical resemblance to the late icon, Stewart also sounds incredibly like her, losing herself in a performance full of vulnerability and defiance as Diana finds herself alone amidst what feels like a bunch of strangers. Not only is it one of the year's best performances, it's also a stark reminder that if you still think of Stewart's acting career as just "the moody girl from the Twilight films", you are both wrong and incredibly ignorant.

Steven Knight writes the film so beautifully, ensuring the film doesn't become a ham-fisted attempt at telling the story of what could have been during that visit to the Sandringham Estate. You can sense the anxiety of Diana as she attends dinners and events with all eyes on her, the solace she finds in spending quality time between herself and her boys, and the undeniable and overwhelming feeling of wanting to break free from the shackles of the royal family for her own good. It's a truly heartfelt piece and one particular moment, without any dialogue, towards the end of the film left me incredibly emotional in remembering just how much of an impact her tragic loss had on people.

Pablo Larraín directs Spencer with the same deftness he did with Jackie, the film possessing a chilling nature as a result. As much as the other guests are aware of her presence, Diana feels like a ghost wandering through the spacious hallways at times, Claire Mathon's wide shots and pale colour grading only emphasising this. Larraín has an ear for evoking emotion as well, Jonny Greenwood's magnificent score accompanying the film so wonderfully.

Alongside Kristen Stewart, Spencer features a strong cast that both aid and hinder Diana during her stay at the Sandringham Estate. There's Sean Harris and Sally Hawkins as members of the royal staff who both offer touching advice to the troubled soul, Timothy Spall who feels as if his character grows a sense of empathy towards the titular character, and both Jack Farthing and Stella Gonet as Prince Charles and the Queen who show minor acts of hostility towards Diana without ever feeling like pantomime villains.

The pshychological aspect of Pablo Larraín's Spencer ensures that this doesn't become yet another stale biopic of such an interesting figure, Kristen Stewart making herself a front-runner come awards season and the film firmly placing itself as one of the best of the year.

Verdict: ★★★★★


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