[Screen It]


(2021) (Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall) (R)

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Drama: Princess Diana finds herself at a breaking point during a traditional royal Christmas gathering.

Ten years into her marriage to Prince Charles (JACK FARTHING), Princess Diana (KRISTEN STEWART) is a shell of a woman due to her husband cheating on her, being hounded by the press, and all the royal protocol she's supposed to accept but has grown increasingly tired of. Accordingly, she's purposefully late to Queen Elizabeth's (STELLA GONET) Sandringham House country estate for the usual Christmas gathering, something not lost on Major Alistair Gregory (TIMOTHY SPALL) who's been brought in to watch over her and keep the press at bay.

Yet, Diana is happy to see her two boys, William (JACK NIELEN) and Harry (FREDDIE SPRY), as well as her royal dresser and close confidante, Maggie (SALLY HAWKINS), who's fully aware of Diana's predicament and current state of mind. Things don't improve when Diana discovers that someone has left a book in her room about Anne Boleyn and it's not long before Diana begins imagining interactions with the former queen (AMY MANSON) who fell out of favor with her husband.

Over three days, Diana begins to suffer from a mental breakdown, all while trying to determine her future including whether -- or if -- she can break away from the life of being a royal.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

"Welcome to your life
There's no turning back
Even while we sleep
We will find you
Acting on your best behavior
Turn your back on Mother Nature
Everybody wants to rule the world"

"Everybody Wants to Rule the World" Tears for Fears

Back when that English pop-rock band released that single, the former Diana Frances Spencer was several years into her marriage to Prince Charles and seemed destined to one day be the Queen Consort. Yet, while many people would give anything to rule the world or, at least, symbolically, England, Lady Di once said in an interview, "I'd like to be a queen of people's hearts, but I don't see myself being queen of this country."

Of course, we all know how things ultimately played out. The once fairy tale wedding soon devolved into a loveless marriage and Diana tiring of that royal arrangement and the public spotlight that came along for the ride. All of which was followed by the eventual divorce and then her tragic death in a Parisian tunnel a year later.

Having previously examined the aftermath of another tragic yet seemingly fairytale marriage in the terrific 2016 drama "Jackie," director Pablo Larraín -- working from a script by Steven Knight -- moves from American "royalty" with Jackie Kennedy and travels across the pond to look at three days in the life of Princess Di in "Spencer."

Whereas that previous film focused on the sudden end of a marriage and dealing with the resultant shock and grief as a wife, mother, and public figure, this offering -- that has many real-life parallels, including the women having to contend with infidelity and the public persona pressure of being the perfect wife -- zeroes in on the slow-motion dissolution of a marriage.

The film begins with Diana (played by Kristen Stewart who wouldn't have been my first or even tenth choice, but ultimately grows into and believably fills the part) stating she's lost -- literally and figuratively -- on the way in her Porsche convertible to her mother-in-law's Sandringham Estate on Christmas Eve, 1991.

Perhaps behaving in a passive-aggressive way to indicate her displeasure in being forced to spend time with Charles (Jack Farthing), his family -- including Stella Gonet as Queen Elizabeth II -- and having to go through all of the usual royal protocols, traditions, and such, Diana shows up late to the Norfolk estate and later to dinner.

While she's happy to see her two boys (Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry), her only real confidante is her royal dresser, Maggie (Sally Hawkins), who's soon sent away by either Charles or Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall) who's been called upon by the royals to keep watch over Diana and her exposure to any lurking press or paparazzi.

That move sends Diana into further emotional turmoil and distress, none of which is helped by the mysterious arrival of a book about Anne Boleyn, the former Queen who lost her head after falling out of favor with the king. Diana rightfully sees that as a not-too-subtle threat or at least warning to get with the act, something Charles later expounds by stating there needing to be two versions of her -- her regular self and the one that's presented to the public (and the staff as noted by signs and dialogue stating that everyone is always listening).

By the time Diana imagines seeing and interacting with Boleyn (Amy Manson) and later enters her long-abandoned former family home at night, the film sort of feels like it's veering into horror territory. No doubt that's helped by composer Jonny Greenwood's funky and seemingly out-of-place score that's part jazz, part disconcerting and sometimes discordant notes that heavily suggest something bad could be headed her and our way (as was also in the case in "Jackie").

Granted, much of that's mitigated by our historical knowledge of how things played out -- at least during the setting of the story -- but it's ultimately more of a horror story of what was transpiring inside Diana's heart and head. I wasn't as blown away this time as much as I was with the filmmaker's previous work, but there's no denying that Stewart is quite good in the role and makes us feel for her character.

All of which means by the time she escapes -- at least temporarily and with another hit from 1985, "All I Need is a Miracle" literally and symbolically playing on the radio -- we feel a sense of relief, albeit with a tinge of sadness knowing what will ultimately come.

"Most of freedom and of pleasure
Nothing ever lasts forever
Everybody wants to rule the world."

With a career-best performance by Stewart and excellent tech credits across the board, "Spencer" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 4, 2021 / Posted November 5, 2021

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