Pablo Larraín’s Spencer: The Complexity of an Iconic Figure

alvin
6 min readNov 23, 2021
Kristen Stewart stars as ‘Princess Diana’ in director Pablo Larraín’s Spencer. Courtesy of NEON.

There is something about Pablo Larraín’s biopic “Spencer” that is so beautiful, yet so deeply disturbing. There is an undeniable poignancy to the film which is so honest and raw that it feels almost too painful to watch. I think the reason that I felt so overwhelmed by the film is that it was incredibly emotional, but also incredibly insightful. There is a sense of both anger and sadness in the way that the film handles the Princess of Wales, and that seems very rare and genuine to me. It is a film that acknowledges the impact of royal life and how that life affected Diana and influenced others around her. The film is so much more than a fictionalized anecdote, and it is a testament to the human condition and how we all deal with the things that we are thrown into.

“Spencer” takes place at the Queen’s Sandringham estate during the Christmas weekend of 1991, and it offers a glimpse into the Princess of Wales’s compelled royal life as she grapples with the decision to leave her marriage to Prince Charles. The film is very honest and shows the way Diana was affected by the constant scrutiny that came with the life of royalty. It shows her as a person who was more complex and interesting than the media portrayed her. Essentially, she is exemplified to be the most vulnerable and likable of all the royals in the film. Larraín was able to show the audience that Princess Diana’s heart was breaking, and the film depicts her as a person who is torn between going forward and going back, between her duties as a public figure and her desire to live a normal life. It lets us see the Princess of Wales as a human, a wife, a mother, and a woman. Even though the film claims itself as “a fable from a true tragedy”, it manages to respect her legacy with a proper sense of humanity and compassion. Unlike Netflix’s The Crown’s depiction of the Royal Family, Larraín’s film does not offer a rosy picture of them, and it does not paint Diana as a flawless person. Instead, it paints a very human portrait of a woman that had more complexity than just being a princess or a royal.

Kristen Stewart’s performance as the People’s Princess is truly stellar, and she deserves all the accolades she is receiving. She portrays her with such poise and grace that makes her performance real and believable. This was the perfect role for her to play; she has a unique ability to portray a character that is both complex and vulnerable. We are not only taken into the psyche of the princess, but we are also treated to a look at the more vulnerable aspects of her life — we are taken into her mind. Stewart was able to portray her perfectly because she captured the inner turmoil that she was feeling in such a natural and honest way. She manages to find the strength and fortitude to carry the role while at the same time showing the vulnerability and humanity of the princess. She not only shows the real Princess Diana in this role, but she also shows the real woman behind the princess. She shows us the true woman that lies beneath all the fame and glory. She showed how Diana’s life was more complex and how she was more than just an iconic figure. Above anything else, Stewart’s performance clearly tells that Princess Diana is a person who was just like us. She had her flaws and her problems, just like we all have. She was a woman that is real and relatable, and Stewart managed to capture her essence and transform her into a human being that the world could easily identify with. By the end, we are left with a sense of sympathy and understanding about her and what she went through. Capturing the complex humanity of a person on-screen is no easy feat, but Stewart managed to do just that. It is difficult to imagine a more perfect performance in a biopic.

Kristen Stewart stars as ‘Princess Diana’ in director Pablo Larraín’s Spencer. Courtesy of NEON.

Pablo Larraín is known for his creative and interpretive representation of the lives of well-known figures. From Pablo Neruda to Jackie Kennedy, Larraín has brought these people to life with his keen sense of humanity and artistic sensibility. “Spencer” is laden with his entrancing direction and Steven Knight’s judicious screenplay, which proves to be a captivating combination. The film is like a perfect marriage between an artist and a writer, as they have created a portrait of the Princess of Wales that is both a true and a real representation of her life and the many qualities that made her who she was. Larraín captured a human being, a human story, and a human tragedy that is at once relatable and universal. He has crafted a story that brings us back to the simple yet profound moments of the good, the bad and the ugly. Moreover, the film was more of a character study. A study of an individual who is the epitome of perfection yet who is flawed and complex. Larraín’s creative direction was so masterful that he made this film much more than a biopic. It was so exquisite and so precise that the film captured the spirit of what Diana represented and left us with a sense of empathy and understanding about a person who is much more complex than most people can imagine. Because of that, the film transcends the realm of mere biographical narrative and enters the realm of art — it is a masterpiece.

Kristen Stewart stars as ‘Princess Diana’ in director Pablo Larraín’s Spencer. Courtesy of NEON.

Claire Mathon’s cinematography is beautiful and poetic in its simplicity. It is composed in such a way to make the story feel even more authentic and emotional. It didn’t show us a picture of the Princess of Wales, but it shows us an accurate picture of her. The cinematography is very delicate and soft, and it was able to capture the essence of her as a human being even though she was a real-life icon. Like Larraín’s direction, Mathon’s cinematography was able to capture the spirit of the story, and it showed us the true Diana from within. On top of the visuals, the film is accompanied by Jonny Greenwood’s redolent score. Purely influenced by baroque, classical music that was so perfect that it became a perfect complement to the film. The jazz music perfectly captures the emotions of the Princess and the story. It encapsulates the beauty, the pain, the sadness, and the joy of the life of a woman who was able to reach the heights of perfection, yet who also had to suffer in the face of adversity. It was a beautiful match and a perfect synergy between the score and the story. The combination of Mathon’s cinematography, Larraín’s direction, Greenwood’s score, and Stewart’s acting was more than enough to produce a masterpiece.

Claire Mathon, Kristen Stewart, and Pablo Larraín on the set of Spencer. By Frederic Batier. Courtesy of NEON.

“Spencer” is a true portrayal of an actual human being. It showed us the humanity behind the perfection. It is a beautifully honest yet emotional film that tells the story of a true icon, a real human being, and a real woman. It manages to do all of that and more. It showed us the complexity of a woman that had to deal with fame, love, and the trials and tribulations of life. This film is a masterpiece and a triumph for everyone involved in its creation. It is a film that transcends the common notion of what a biopic is and what it is capable of. It is a true masterpiece. It is one of the best films that I watched this year, and it deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. Please, if you have the time, watch “Spencer.” It is an experience that you will never forget.

Spencer is available to rent on VOD today.

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