Director: Pablo Larraín Rated: R Runtime: 1h 57m Studio: Neon Screenwriter: Steven Knight Cast: Kristen Stewart, Jack Farthing, Sally Hawkins, Timothy Spall, Sean Harris
Some (fictional) films are inspired by, based on, or adapted from other works or events. No matter the mild disclaimer, the audience understands that it’s still a work of fiction. Spencer doesn’t do that. It opens with “a fable from a true tragedy.” Like children’s stories that start with the words ‘once upon a time.’ We know they are made up unless you are a small child who hasn’t learned better yet. Steven Knight and Pablo Larraín set the tone for their film that the viewer will be as gullible as a small child.
I’m not a royalist. I’m also no fan of Kristen Stewart. Yet I respect the humanitarian that Diana was, and her hands-on approach to parenting, as it was. So, I begrudgingly finally sat down to watch Spencer.
Spencer is one of the most mind-numbingly dull waste of brain cells; time sucks, I have watched in years. If I had paid to see this in theaters, I would have gotten my money back. Instead, I kept skipping ahead (on Hulu) to see if anything more interesting would happen. It didn’t. A turtle could outrun the pace of this film; it drags with no redeeming waypoints along its runtime. I can’t fathom how chaotic it was to read the script for this film and why anyone would agree to such poor transitions from scene to scene.
In any one scene, Diana is depressed, frustrated, physically ill, and contemptuous. None of the grace of character attributed to her usual demeanor is on display in this slice of life holiday getaway. No one has their shit together one-hundred percent of the time, let alone behind closed doors. And yet, this depiction of her mindset after she and Charles (Farthing)decide to end their marriage is understandable only to a point. The rest of the cast, where the Royal family is concerned, was an ugly prop. A cold as ice implication that they hated Diana. There is nothing profound about any of them as actors. I think they may have been cast because they fit two criteria. First, they bear some resemblance to a royal family member. Second, they look like they could kill someone with a disdainful icy glare.
The takeaway from Spencer is that Diana is ungrateful and is losing her shit. At the same time, everyone else micromanages her and watches the trainwreck in progress. Why? The royal family is an unyielding, un-empathetic lot trained in the archaic art of not feeling, speaking, or thinking. To do so is treason. Farthing’s Charles says there needs to be two of everyone, the real one and the one for photos. Yet, what is abundantly clear is that there isn’t one heart between the two versions of Charles or the Queen, and they’ve killed Diana’s along with her most of her soul. The only true glimmer of honesty in this movie is Diana’s warmth for her boys.
It’s not a secret the English monarchy is detached from reality, but apparently, so is the director and screenwriter of Spencer for thinking this was a story worth telling. It’s one thing to take liberties with known facts about a famous/infamous person and frame what unfolds as a “what if” scenario. Spencer, however, plays out as a dull character assassination. This telling doesn’t tell the audience some facts it doesn’t already know about Diana or the royal family. So why make it? Billed as a biopic, there is nothing epic about this film. By definition, a biopic is about the life of a person, not a day in the life of one. The distinction is essential.
Spencer is a tedious watch with disjointed scene shifts overlayed by questionable musical accompaniment, performed by a cast as engaging as watching paint dry on cardboard. Again, I’m no royalist, but good or bad, Spencer is an $18 million piss on Diana and the royal family. Nothing so unoriginal, poorly constructed, and boring should ever make your watchlist.
-A Pen Lady