LONDON: A lot was riding on the UK premiere of “Spencer” at the BFI London Film Festival this month. After all, this was the film’s ‘homecoming,’ as the festival organizers dubbed it. As the film’s credits began to roll, a roaring three-minute-long applause rightfully thundered across the theatre.
“Spencer,” directed by Pablo Larraín and written by Steven Knight, is set over a three-day holiday at the British Royal family’s vacation home in the early Nineties and puts Princess Diana’s mental health at the forefront of the film from start to end.
Throughout, the camera stalks Diana and offers a look into the troubled mind of the princess and her dealings with the highly-secretive, ultra-traditional royal family. Beautifully shot and, at times, overwhelmingly dark, the film pulls no punches in its depiction of Diana’s struggles — her bulimia, loneliness, acceptance of her husband’s affair, and above all, smiling through it all for the cameras.
Larrain and cinematographer Claire Mathon make excellent use of camera movement and scene setting to showcase what the paparazzi lurking about the grounds are trying so hard to capture (and what Prince Charles and the rest of the royal family are equally trying to hide, even going as far as sewing up Diana’s bedroom curtains).
Kristen Stewart is excellent in the lead role, stealing every scene. It was a brave move for an American actress to take on such an iconic British personality, but Stewart is pitch-perfect — from Diana’s flirtatiously innocent head tilt to her reluctant-yet-assertive tone of voice, she nails it at every turn.
The films pace shifts confidently between overwhelming emotion and minutiae-focused tedium — surely an accurate portrayal of a Royal holiday — and the supporting cast, including Diana’s confidante and Royal Dresser Maggie (Sally Hawkins), Equerry Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall), Royal Head Chef Darren McGrady (Sean Harris) and Princes William and Harry (Jack Nielen and Freddy Spry) all play wonderfully off Stewart’s Diana.
“Spencer” is a compelling portrayal of the princess’ plunge into mental-health difficulties in the lead up to her untimely death, and a still-too-relevant reminder of the pressure placed on young women in the public eye.