Watching Spencer may be art, but it’s all sheer torture. A fair question is “after The Crown, Diana: The Musical, and others of their ilk, is there anything we don’t already know?” Apparently not, since Spencer opens with “a fable from a true tragedy.” If someone tells you this is a story of Princess Diana’s descent into hell, they are wrong. She’s already there when she arrives at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate on Christmas Eve 1991. (See bottom picture below.) As an aside, filming took place at the spectacular Nordkirchen Castle in Germany known as the Versailles of Westphalia. (See picture second from bottom.) Back to Spencer at Sandringham, we find her bulimic and self-mutilating, not exactly an ideal viewing experience.
Spencer reminds of a one act, one character play done over 48 hours. Yes, there are other actors. But, the camera is always closely focused on Diana, each and every facial glance and twitch. Her claustrophobic unhappiness oozes from every pore. Described as a biographical psychological drama, Spencer is a “fictionalized account of her decision to end her marriage.” She knows she’s not well. Others might indicate she’s deeply disturbed. Diana asks her only friend how the history books would remember her in 100 years if she became Queen. Would she be Diana the Crazy? If you are in the mood to watch pain and agony, Spencer delivers. It garners an 85% Rotten Tomatoes rating and a higher-than-expected 7.1/10 IMDb score. I give it 1.0 Gavel and give a nod to the early 52% Audience score.
Because Santa delivers presents to the Royals before the Commoners, tradition demands they open gifts on Christmas Eve. Diana receives beautiful pearls from Charles. Moronically, he gave Camilla the same gift. Diana yearns for the happiness of her youth, but the nearby manor of her childhood is run-down, boarded up. Other than Maggie, The Royal Dresser, she has no one to talk to. Her children ask her why she is so sad. Reading about Anne Boleyn, she finds a kindred sprit. We all know how that ended.
In a tour-de-force performance, Kristin Stewart (Charlie’s Angels, Happiest Season) delivers a performance that will undoubtedly deliver an Oscar nomination. The camera seeks out every slightest movement, just as it would Diana. There is no escape from the public glare, nor the paparazzi. Timothy Spall (Early Man) as Equerry Major Gregory, on behalf of, and to protect, the Crown has eyes everywhere. Sally Hawkins plays Maggie, too infrequent on the screen. She received an Oscar nomination for The Shape of Water although she was even better in Maudie.
Does it bother the Brits when a German castle poses as a favorite Royal estate? Then again, does it really annoy the Brits when an American acts as a British icon? (Remember the Renee Zellweger/Bridget Jones Diary brouhaha?)
“Spencer calls itself a ‘fable from a true tragedy.’ It might also be called a fever dream, a surreal nightmare, a reductio ad tedium or just an inherently limiting concept that slowly but inexorably squeezes the life out of itself.” Wall Street Journal
“At times, the film is excruciating, albeit deliberately, and that works it its favor.” Salon.com
I beg to differ. If you want excruciating and a Spencer, go back to Spenser Confidential? It’s much less painful.