Crown Jewel

Will Ferris
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Spencer (12, 111 Minutes)

“A fable based on a true story.”

Those are the first words we see before we meet Kristen Stewart’s Diana. This is indeed a fable, and yet Pablo Larrain’s masterful direction successfully deludes us that this is real to the core.

It’s a cold Christmas, both in Sandringham and Princess Di’s marriage. She’s late, but not by accident. Standing in the fields between the grand, royal estate and her own childhood home, she contemplates her place in the world. A past robbed from her, replaced with an identity in which image is everything. She’s mentally unwell, the royal family don’t like her and, to top it all off, her hubby, the future king of England, wants to be another woman’s tampon.

Diana is quickly becoming a husk. Suddenly, she’s had enough. About time too.

This is hardly a love letter to the royal family on the scale of ‘The Crown’ and not in any way a romanticised look at our protagonist. It’s an insight into the faltering mental state of a tortured woman who has fallen down the rabbit hole and is now frantically trying to climb out.

It’s hard to determine where to place this film in terms of genre. It’s supposed to be a biopic, but from the moment it begins there’s an unsettling sense of dread that lingers. A horror biopic, perhaps? The narrative itself is as fractured as Diana herself. There’s no telling what’s real or fictional trickery her senses are playing. The ghost of Anne Boleyn, for example, is but a fantasy from the mind of a woman scorned. Diana is clutching to what little comforts she can – her one friend, a royal dresser, and the loves of her life, Princes William and Harry.

As for the antagonist, it’s Sandringham and the icy gaze of the people within. Beautifully, the royals themselves have very little dialogue. They don’t need lines. Their eyes do the acting for them. Always staring.

Kristen Stewart is magnificent. This is a very physical and inventive performance we’ve never seen before for such a high profile figure. Perhaps the most striking element is the way in which she grows on us. There’s a sadness in her eyes. Not for what’s happening in the present, but what may come. Something we have an unfortunate, extended knowledge of.

A little long, but I see an Oscar on the horizon.

RATING: 9/10