Spencer (2021) TIFF 2021 Early Review - A Bold Biopic (Written by Hussain Alokaily)

 Spencer is the new movie based on Princess Diana that's directed by Pablo Larraín and stars Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sean Harris, Jack Farthing, and Sally Hawkins. The movie takes place in 1991 as The marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles has long since grown cold. Though rumors of affairs and a divorce abound, peace is ordained for the Christmas festivities at the Queen's Sandringham Estate. There's eating and drinking, shooting and hunting. Diana knows the game. But this year, things will be profoundly different. Spencer is an imagining of what might have happened during those few fateful days.

It still surprises me how truly popular Princess Diana truly was back in the day from the media. Being born way after everything involving her transpired, I never realized how popular she truly was until my parents shared their experiences of remembering her and how popular she was. That all made me delighted to see that a new film based on her was being made as it had a promising director and cast attached to it. After seeing it, I am very happy to report that Spencer ended being both really good and surprising!

The thing that surprised me the most about the film was how arthouse it really was for being a biopic on a real person. There is a certain stereotypical expectation that comes with a biopic that Spencer manages to subvert with how claustrophobic and psychological it can get. It makes many sequences of the film unsettling to watch and manages to really capture Diana's headspace during this period of her life. The structure of the movie also helps with this as it takes place in a small 3 day period in her life rather than her entire story and yet captures a lot of the truly defining legacy of Diana. What caught me off guard with the movie at first was how much of a slow burn it really was. It really takes its time to set up the dominos put in place for the story, so much so that I wasn't sure where it was going for the first bit of it. However, when it comes to attention to the type of film it sets up by the end, it really manages to pay off and create something unique.

The movie all lives with its director, Pablo Larraín who managed to create such a unique and bold vision for this biopic. It takes a story that could have all been something not that interesting and instead, creates this cinematic, unsettling at times and bold take on Diana's period of time. The excellent direction is further elaborated by the film's incredible cinematography and camera work. The movie is framed with a 4x3 aspect ratio and really manages to use claustrophobic angles to empathize how trapped Diana felt this time in her life. It really gives this overall unique look that is not seen often which made this movie have its own visual identity.

The biggest draw to this movie will be its performances as the whole ensemble knocks it out of the park. However, the single best performance of the film is easily its lead Kristen Stewart as she fully embodies Princess Diana. Stewart transforms into the character and manages to capture known things like her accent but, also manages to make the role her own by displaying such vulnerableness here.

The only flaw I can say is that they really could have shaved off 10 minutes to make something tighter. Parts of the movie feel repetitive at a while which feels like something that could have been easily edited out.

Overall, Spencer is a great movie that is sure to be a strong player in certain categories at the Oscars. With its unique and arthouse approach to its storytelling and structure, fantastic direction, incredible cinematography/camera work and, amazing performance from Kristen Stewart, it shows how unique and exciting a biopic can be in the right hands.


Spencer releases in theatres on November 5th, 2021


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