Kristen Stewart proves to be one of the most versatile and appealing actors with 2021’s Spencer, an immaculate yet patient film regarding mental illness, abuse, and the Royal Family.
Biopics present the challenge of relying on historical accuracy while still offering an interesting story. Spencer, directed by Pablo Larraín and written by Steven Knight, takes the opposite approach, implementing the story of Diana, Princess of Wales, as a fable rather than an exact depiction of her life.
Starring Kristen Stewart as Diana, Timothy Spall as Major Alistar Gregory, Jack Nielen as William, and Freddie Spry as Harry, Spencer focuses on Diana Spencer as she struggles with mental health issues and her marriage during the Christmas holidays with the royal family at the Sandringham estate in Norfolk, England.
The Biopic Fable
Presenting Spencer as a fable instead of a factual or ordinary biopic allows the director more freedom with the story, character decisions, and overall implementation. Though many of the themes and story arcs are based on a true basis, there are plenty of subtle and more apparent additions that are there to just add to the film.
No matter how tragic or compelling a person’s life is, it doesn’t always translate directly to film. There have been plenty of lousy biopics solely due to them focusing too heavily on what’s true. Cinema isn’t meant to be completely accurate, as long as it’s not presented as being so.
A Psychological Horror
Spencer’s biggest strength is its psychological horror elements. The film doesn’t portray as The Shining per se but clearly walks the line with the psyche of Princess Diana and the strain and stress of the royal family formulating and worsening her mental health. It gives the audience a sense of the faults associated with this particular lifestyle.
❝ If anyone were to spout a doubt of Kristen Stewart’s acting ability, I urge them to view Spencer❞
Though lavish and filled with whatever you want, someone the family doesn’t accept has an additional burden of those supposed to be closest, acting antagonistically toward them. We see Diana’s struggle with her fame and life, characterized through heavy themes of depression, anxiety, an eating disorder, self-harm, and conflating the line of what’s real and not.
Kristen Stewart’s Masterful Performance
If anyone were to spout a doubt of Kristen Stewart’s acting ability, I urge them to view Spencer. Stewart is an unsullied gem throughout the entire film. With its entire plot focused on Diana, her decisions, and how she portrays what’s around her, it wouldn’t have been possible without Kristen Stewart demonstrating the role so magnificently.
We see Diana’s haunting internalized fear and anxiety through how she speaks, walks, acts, and thinks. Every bit of dialogue, use of imagery, and decision feels carefully selected—a way to showcase Stewart’s talent as an actor. Though Stewart’s dialogue can be challenging to understand at times due to her shy and uneasy-ridden tone, it works because that’s how the character is meant to be.
A Haunting Score
Spencer is a plodding film at times, demonstrating Diana’s character study and the strain of her life with her only absolute joy coming from being a mother. Jonny Greenwood’s score does a fantastic job of keeping the audience engaged, even through its slower parts with a seemingly abstract jazz-infused score. Its chaotic yet subtleness creates the ecosystem to understand Diana’s thought-process of what’s around her.
Spencer is a formula for why more filmmakers should take risks with biopics. Although the film doesn’t have anything revealing or groundbreaking, poor diction at times and a generally slow pace, Kristen Stewart’s performance, its direction and cinematography, and unimaginably serene and turbulent score make it stand out as one of the best biopics in recent memory.