Going into Spencer, I knew essentially the bare minimum about it to inspire some intrigue; in other words, I knew it was a Diana movie that had been praised at multiple film festivals. Biographical films like this can often venture too far into soap-opera territory, but I had high hopes for it to be an exception.
Not only does it avoid becoming that kind of biopic, but it frankly strays from becoming a biopic at all. Really, the only thing biographical about it is the pre-existing audience expectation of a ‘true story’ and the knowledge that the characters are real.
But really, Spencer plays out a lot more like an art-house fairy tale than anything else, even opening with the words, ‘a fable from a true tragedy.’ Going this route proves to be an effective idea, as a fictional tale wedged into an actual event allows for way more creativity than a straightforward and accurate account could give. The plot allows space for symbolism that brilliantly illustrates some of the darker, less-seen sides of fame, as well as exploring other themes like elitism and tradition.
It will come as no surprise to anyone keeping up with Oscar-projections or other reviews, but Kristen Stewart provides a terrific portrayal of Diana. Her performance conveys so much below-the-surface emotion while still maintaining subtlety and a general levity, especially in her physicality. She could and should most certainly get an Oscar nod for her role.
Is Spencer your typical biographical film? No, but that distinction is purely for the better. By purposely omitting the usual historical accuracy, it avoids becoming a mere adaptation of the history books. Instead, it gives us an emotionally-charged character study that can feel painfully real at times — even more so than a telling of real events might.
Overall rating: 8/10