Pablo Larrain ninth feature film, after the exceptional NO and the one woman star turn JACKIE, is the personal tragedy SPENCER. The story or should I say faux reality of Diana Spencer or Diana Princess of Wales over a Christmas weekend in the royal household. Diana,  once seen as the future Queen of England and her domains, is at the mouth of a very real precipice. Her marriage to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing) has slowly decayed to the point of no return. Diana(Kristen Stewart) fragile mental state has ruptured and now implodes. Charles affair with Camilla Parker Bowles being the catalyst for much of this, alongside the lack of any reconciliation and the Queen (Stella Gonet) seemingly solely focused on deportment and tired regal function. With divorce at the door, the Christmas festivities at the queen’s estate are a time of respectful peace. But Diana cant hold herself or her children’s lives in this nightmare for much longer.

Pablo Larrain mentions in his notes on his film SPENCER, the term ‘upside down fairy tale’. He mentions points on how they had to construct and comprehend the royal process. Imagining what it is like ‘behind the doors they close after their public appearances are done’. Interestingly for the viewer, they may find it hard to see where Larrain actually is in all this imagining. I would go one step further. This is Larrain’s version of a Bertolucci and Antonioni nightmare. His work has always and still suffers from him defusing his art within the language of another. He did it with NO via the work of Costa Gavras and JACKIE via the work of almost any 1960s new wave US film maker. Here within SPENCER he seems bent on smashing the two and crafting a nightmarish fairy tale. And one with a over riding feeling (thanks to Johnny Greenwoods score) that the nightmare is unceasingly obtuse. For me it also suggested a compromised sense of cinematic excess to ‘over emphasise’ the obvious.

SPENCER never comes out ahead, neither sadly does Diana or Stewart for that matter. She is underserved in a major way. Some have suggested that her directional instruction was to ‘do a Diana’ but I think this is incorrect. She gives it her all but fails to dig under the shell of Diana, a woman we all knew the look but not the soul of. Then we have the jarring compositions, which I understood express the deep, psychological disease Diana feels in the space but are often framed incoherently and crash between immense or constricted without rationale. Thankfully the visual pallet is better served and though desaturated, exposes the archaic beauty (I commend Claire Mathon the DOP here for this). Now I know some of what we see is true. Some of it ask us compelling questions about the uneasy silence of royals and horrible things they have observed. Nightmarish in tone, horrific in execution, Pablo Larrain SPENCER will leave many sporting a headache and a longing for something without the horrors of floral curtains.

SPENCER is on general release

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