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Spencer Review: When Princess Diana Was Cracking Up!

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Spencer

Spencer

Starring  Kristen  Stewart, Timothy Spall.

Directed by  Pablo Larrain

Rating: ** ½

 Was she really , now?  Cracking up, I mean. That’s  what the  royal dresser says  about  Princess Diana. And the way the usually-fabulous Kristen Stewart plays her it almost seems like  Lady Di is indeed cracking up.

 Fact or fiction, we  don’t really know. What we get to see  in the  film is  a really fidgety and nervous  Diana .At the start we see  her losing her way in rural England. The  first words  Stewart’s Diana  utters is,  ‘Where the  fuck am I?’

She is lost…get it? Heavily  suffused  in symbolism,this take on what  could have gone wrong with Diana’s troubled marriage has  little  to do with reality. And  I don’t mean  the state of Diana’s mind,  which if  we are to believe this film,  was  highly  precarious.

To call Stewart’s Diana highly-strung would be an  understatement. Stewart plays  Diana with her head tilted  to one side  , as  though trying to balance herself in a world that moves in  opposition to her psycho-physical  equilibrium. It’s a wonky performance   replete  with  nervous ticks  and agonizing silences that scream  the  lady’s protest against her royal slyness.

The royalty is  shown  as a collection of stuffed  shirts(and  gowns). Queen Elizabeth(played by  Stella Gonet) is completely lacking in  dimension. When the desperately unhappy  Diana tries  to reach out to her starchy mother-in-law she freezes  the poor Diana down  by changing the topic.

 Worst  of all is Prince Charles,  played with such aching humanism by Josh O’Connor in the far-superior The Crown. Here  Jack Farthing’s  Charles stands on the  other side of a large room ,  lips  pursed  , while  Diana stands on one  side, her tilted  head threatening  to  create  a crick  in the neck. They are separated  by a billiards table and they speak to each  other  with gritted teeth.

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 Spencer(that  , for those who  came in late , was Diana’s maiden name) is  a  romp into a  theatrical  soap opera  with all the characters barring Diana  appearing to be well-groomed mannequins in a high-end  boutique. Timothy Spall as  the  chief of staff is  scarily  wizened, as  if he walked  into  this  soap-on-cinema thinking it to be  a horror film. The very talented Sally Hawkins strikes  a note of warmth  as  Diana’s dresser  in this coldhearted  take on a woman married  into the wrong family.

 As  for  Kirsten Stewart’s Diana, I expected  Stewart(a personal favourite) to  humanize Diana, to show her as  vulnerable  yet strong. Stewart plays her a nervous wreck , a candle in the wind on the verge  of  being extinguished. Stewart’s Diana seems to come alive only when she is  with her  children. For the rest, she is  as  unreal as  the ghost  of Anne Bolyn that haunts Diana.

 Yes, there  is  a ghost too in Spencer. Everything that can possibly go wrong in Diana’s marriage does  go wrong. Did Diana deserve to  be projected as  a  woman who is rapidly losing her sense  of reality? Does Spencer  do anything for Diana except to show us  what Kristen Stewart can  do with the character when she thinks no one is watching.

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