Framing Spencer

Don’t think for a second that you’ll be treated to a biopic or historical-events-as-flashback in the vein of this Naomi Watts number or this Madonna-produced drama should you decide to watch Spencer (Pablo Larrain, 2021).  If you’ve seen Larrain’s previous work Jackie (2016), arguably more biopic-ish in premise, you may have a better tonal reference point for what it’s like to watch this sometimes tense and inexplicably alluring meditation on how to deal with trying to adhere to stifling standards.

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Self-identified as a fable, per the on-screen text at the start of the film, Spencer is a textbook example of how to employ shot scale, composition, camerawork, sound design, and musical score to conjure a suffocating and disquieting atmosphere where the main character, who married into the royal family of royal families, is trying to make it through a Christmas weekend.  Kristen Stewart may not be the first actress you envision as portraying said main character, but in performing this role, she has shed those signature traits of annoyed exhales, severe shoulder drooping, and fidgety limbs for anxiety-induced panting, expressive gazes, and a certain grown-up-ness that many of her post-Twilight roles hadn’t required.

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Does it help that the wardrobe department did a very good job to make it easier for the viewer to stop seeing Kristen Stewart on screen and start seeing her playing Diana?  Oui.  Does it help that she doesn’t talk like she normally does?  Oui.  Does it seem like there are certain scenes where she’s self-aware in channeling a different persona through speechUn peu.  But it works.  I watched this film twice in a row after I got the DVD and fifteen minutes into the second viewing, I ceased seeing an actress of whom I’m incredibly fond and started seeing a woman desperate for meaningful defiance.

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Larrain’s film isn’t supposed to be scary, and yet, it succeeds in presenting psychological unease through elements of the mise-en-scene, the music, and the many close-ups around Diana’s face.  If you’ve seen Spencer and remember this dinner scene with the soup and the pearls, you’ll know what I mean.

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The director talks about this scene with The New York Times:

Kristen Stewart talks to Howard Stern about the accent:

I’d wanted to see this film in the theatre so badly a few months go but waited for the DVD because I knew I wanted subtitles and that I’d get it on home video anyway.

I might add Spencer to my quasi-annual Xmas movie-watching tradition.

Pic creds: Amazon, IMDB

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