Kristen Stewart has come a long way from her forgetful beginnings as Bella Swan, the central character of the Twilight trilogy. It took years for Stewart to break free from her type-casted perception as a one-dimensional actress. Noteworthy performances in indie films like Clouds of Sils Maria and Personal Shopper paved the way for her inevitable ascension into awards season chatter by playing Princess Diana in Pablo Larraín’s latest biopic, Spencer. While the director has already helped catapult Natalie Portman to a Best Actress nomination with his previous female-centered biopic, Jackie, Larraín and Stewart are going for gold this year with a superior film and a superior performance which are helping keep that Oscar statue well within reach.
Set briefly during a three-day period over the Christmas holiday in 1991, Diana (Stewart) arrives late to the royal family’s intimate gathering. Emotionally distraught over her husband’s (Jack Farthing) publicly-known infidelity, she displays a complete disregard for the royal family’s many rules and a lack of respect for their lofty expectations. And as Diana’s crumbling marriage finally turns to dust, she decides to break free from this stranglehold by the British monarchy once and for all.
Spencer stands as a deeply engrossing and brutally intimate immersion into the fragile psyche of the late Princess of Wales. From the opening moments of the film, it’s clear that Diana is a wild horse, untamed and rebellious against the traditions bestowed upon her as a member of the royal family. She finds herself more in tune with the common folk, finding friendship and human connection with her closest servant (Sally Hawkins) and the head chef (Sean Harris) of the estate, both of whom she sees on the rarest of occasions. Outside of her love for being a mother, loneliness and depression clearly consume Diana’s life. Kristen Stewart beautifully captures this challenging balance of elegance and melancholy with remarkable ease. All throughout her Oscar-destined turn, Stewart loses herself in the role and settles into Diana’s skin, nailing both the late Princess’ look and her forthright persona.
Equally as electrifying as Stewart’s performance is Jonny Greenwood’s score. The Phantom Thread composer delivers an always mood-appropriate soundtrack that brilliantly sets the tone for each and every scene of the film. And not only is Spencer strongly acted and wonderfully scored, the feature is superbly complemented by Pablo Larraín’s direction and Steven Knight’s script. Its story is caked and decorated with metaphors galore, some less subtle than others, but all of which combine to assist in Larraín’s determined quest of depicting Diana’s intolerable suffocation from the duties of her role in the British monarchy. All things considered, Spencer subverts the typical biopic structure en route to becoming one of year’s most memorable and accomplished films.