Biography Drama

TIFF Review: ‘Spencer’ Dramatizes a Fairy Tale Turned Nightmare, and You Don’t Have to be Royalty to Relate

November 1, 2021Ben MK

If anyone knows about the general public's fascination with celebrities and their private lives, it's Kristen Stewart. Ever since her breakout role as Bella Swan in the Twilight series, Stewart has been a favorite of the paparazzi, whose photos have helped chart the actress' transformation from relatively unknown child actor to both mainstream movie star and art house darling. It's an experience that was all too familiar to the one and only Princess Diana as well. And, as such, it's only fitting that Stewart's latest role has her playing the People's Princess herself, in director Pablo Larraín's "fable from a true tragedy."

Set a decade into Diana's highly publicized and tumultuous marriage to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing), the film follows the Princess of Wales over a three-day period, from Christmas to Boxing Day 1991. The occasion is the Royal Family's annual Christmas get-together at Sandringham Estate, but having opted to act as her own chauffeur, Diana has managed to get herself lost, only to be found by Royal chef Darren (Sean Harris). When she finally does make it to the Queen's Norfolk residence, Diana's happy reunion with her two boys, William (Jack Nielen) and Harry (Freddie Spry), is quickly interrupted by the need for her to participate in a Royal tradition that stirs up her discomfort surrounding her Bulimia. And over the course of the next 72 hours, we watch as Diana suffers her way through the rest of the holiday's carefully planned events, plagued by visions of the ill-fated Anne Boleyn (Amy Manson) and finding her only solace in a sympathetic maid named Maggie (Sally Hawkins).

It all adds up to a portrait of Diana that parallels Larraín's 2016 portrait of Jacqueline Kennedy. But while Jackie was about one woman's struggle with grief in the wake of her husband's death, Spencer is about one woman's struggle with the grief she feels about her own life. Suffice to say, it's territory that both Larraín and Stewart are well-versed in, based on their respective filmographies. More importantly, it's subject matter everyone can relate to, whether you're real-life royalty, Hollywood royalty, or just someone watching the drama unfold in a movie theater.

Spencer screened under the Special Events programme at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival and is in theaters November 5th. Its runtime is 1 hr. 51 min.

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