In 2016, Pablo Larraín gave the world Jackie starring Natalie Portman. Five years later he brings us the story of another style icon and public figure with Princess Diana in Spencer. The two films share quite a lot of similarities and not just that they serve as a showcase for really great performances by their lead actress (as well as a fashion montage of both of their iconic wardrobes to boot). Like Jackie, Spencer gives us an up-close and personal look at the princess, but here it's throughout the course of a Christmas holiday weekend with the royal family. The tradition goes that Christmas is spent at one of the Queen's many houses, Sandringham a castle close to Diana's childhood home. The year is 1991 and Diana's marriage is on the rocks. Every second she's struggling to pull it together as she finds all the expectations around her to be suffocating.
Spencer is often shot and scored like a horror film which truly highlights the emotional turmoil Diana experienced. The film states at the very beginning that it is a "fable based on a true story", letting the audience know that it plans to take some liberties in telling its tale. Much of the film is certainly told as a metaphor and not intended to be taken literally. Still, I can't help but feel uncomfortable knowing that pretty much all of the subjects of the film besides its lead, are real people who are still alive and well. Whether or not it was a true depiction of her inner self, it certainly isn't a flattering one. Kristen Stewart gives a fantastic performance to be sure and is exactly what this movie calls for her to be, but whether or not Diana was as fragile as she portrays her to be, no one but those closest to her would know. So everything we're seeing is certainly a fantasy, but you can tell that's the way Larraín wants it.
There is no doubt that Spencer has grand ambitions in the story it wants to tell. Larraín makes many bold choices here, some of which I felt really worked (like the dinner scene with the pearls), and others that did not (all of the uses of overbearing jazz music whenever she took a stroll in the dark). But one thing is true, and that is that I can't stop thinking about it. The more I think about it the more I admire it. So many scenes and shots just stayed with me and were as haunting as intended. Spencer is an arrestingly beautiful film from the incredible cinematography to the reflective screenplay, gorgeous costume design, and stellar performances. It's one of the best that 2021 has to offer.