‘Spencer,’ its star nominated for an Oscar, is not your typical biopic

By Samantha Belcher

THE 2021 psychological drama “Spencer” was directed by Pablo Larrain and written by Steven Knight. The film revolves around Princess Diana’s crisis of identity when she wants to divorce Prince Charles and leave the royal family during Christmas. Among the stars of the film are Kristen Stewart and Jack Farthing as Princess Diana and Prince Charles, as well as Timothy Spall, Sean Harris, and Sally Hawkins. The premiere of Spencer was held at the 78th Venice International Film Festival on Sept. 3, 2021.

The film “Spencer” was released in theaters in the United Kingdom and the United States on Nov. 5 2021.

In addition to garnering positive reviews from critics, the film grossed more than $21 million worldwide, with Stewart’s performance receiving widespread acclaim. In recognition of her portrayal of Diana, Stewart was nominated for an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, and the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Actress. Forbes reported upon release of the teaser trailer that Stewart’s role would “thrust her into the Oscar race” for best actress. Stewart will likely receive her first Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Diana, Variety reported. After its premiere, the movie also received a three-minute standing ovation, with critics praising Stewart’s portrayal of Diana. 

In the first scene of Spencer, we see Diana driving to the Sandringham Estate for the annual Christmas weekend with the royal family. Despite having grown up in the area, she finds herself lost and cannot pinpoint where she is. It is apparent that this feeling of being lost has a figurative dimension that will carry throughout the film.

The audience gets a better feeling of the princess known to the world, yet unknown to herself. She is suffocating under the constant pressures of the royal family. They hold her to high demands in hopes to mold her into their image which, conflicts with her true personality. Early in the film, we see a dead bird on the street being run over by several cars. This plays into the story as foreshadowing, as we see Diana questioning on occasion whether the royal family will kill her. Among these cars were employees who were preparing a spectacular dinner for the royal family. You might say that to some extent the British royal family in this film is the main antagonist.

Rather than being a standard biopic, this film showcases more of a contemporary style. The events described in “Spencer” took place over the course of three days in 1991, during the Royal Family’s customary Christmas celebration in Sandringham. This was approximately ten years after Diana and Charles married, and about six years before Diana’s fatal car accident in Paris.

This film is a fictionalization about what might have been Diana’s experience being a part of the royal family. In the film, she depicts the Feeling as being trapped, yearning for freedom yet constrained by the family’s norms and conventions. Halfway through the film, we see Charles lecturing Diana on the proper etiquette needed for those apart of the royal family.

Kristen Stewart speaks on-stage at the 33rd Annual Producers Guild Awards at the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel on Saturday, March 19, 2022 in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision for the Producers Guild of America/AP Images)

He explains that each member of the Royal Family is two people. The public image and the true self. Diana, however, couldn’t fit that mold. The royal family tries to install order and rules onto the princess which sends her into a deeper spiral. By the end of the film, we see a weight lift from Diana as she drives off with her children, away from the royal family. 

To conclude, Spencer isn’t your typical biopic, but it will definitely appeal to those looking for something different. Diana, as depicted in the film, is definitely in need of support but is unable to find it among her family members. Throughout the movie, Diana never actually received any assistance. She finds peace, though, when she is with her two children. There are some topics in this film that we may identify to some extent. The effort to maintain one’s sanity is more relevant than ever these days.

Samantha Belcher is a senior majoring in Human Services and minoring in Sociology.

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