Review: Kristen Stewart is unflinching and unpredictable in Spencer
Spencer brings a new unpredictability to Diana.
Kristen Stewart in Spencer is not as you'd expect - in the best possible way.
Directed by Pablo Larraín and written by Steven Knight, the new film (released in Ireland this week) isn't so much a biopic as it is a physiological drama, one that provides an imagining into Diana's experience during a crucial weekend in her life that is both unflinching and deeply uncomfortable.
The film depicts three days at Christmastime at the Queen's Sandringham estate, one of the many traditions the royal family has stuck by over the years. Amidst rumours of affairs, ever-growing sons becoming acutely aware of what their future holds, and increased attention from the press, Spencer considers what might have led Diana to decide to leave the royal family, and what her state of mind may have been at the time.
This isn't the first time that Diana's struggle with disordered eating has been portrayed on screen in recent years. Her declining mental health amidst her entry into royal life featured in the latest series of Netflix's The Crown, in which Emma Corrin's performance presented a Diana excited by new love and possibility, steadily torn down by the realities of her expected muted existence.
Stewart's portrayal of the People's Princess is set during a period of intense inner turmoil, depression, and ultimately, change. It's during this festive period that Diana realises her marriage to Prince Charles isn't working and that she can't accept the duality of the royal existence; one that encourages her to be statuesque in public and break down behind closed doors.
The suppression of royal life is offset by Diana's iconic wardrobe, an instantly recognisable dose of glamour among the drab and the traditional. Each garment on her Christmas rail is power, a means for the princess to take back what little control she can.
Stewart's performance is near perfect. For years the actor has been proving that she's more than Bella Swan and if the response to Spencer is anything to go by, it'll be no surprise to anyone if Stewart lands herself multiple Best Actress nods ahead of the next awards season.
Telling the BBC that she wanted to give her own portrayal of how she saw Diana rather than do an impression, Stewart's performance came from pouring over videos, photographs, and Corrin's own rendition - along with a new unpredictability that echoes the halls of Sandringham.
"I think to do her justice is to allow her to be impulsive," she said. "Anything I watched her in, whether it was an interview, or even in a still photograph, it always feels unpredictable. Like you don't know what's going to happen.
"And it's because she has this vulnerability and this raw emotion that she cannot conceal. There's no way to do a perfect impression of that."
Scenes depicting Diana's eating disorder and moments of self harm are deeply uncomfortable but they are not grotesque. Food is central in Spencer, introducing us to what is sure to be a painful weekend and eventually providing a means to partial, and probably short lived, freedom.
In final scenes that can only be compared to the recent escape of her son Prince Harry and wife Meghan Markle, a couple who have drawn much attention to the unwavering pressures of royal life and the often ignored impact it can have on a person's mental health, Spencer takes an unexpected turn.
At odds with its sombre and often anxiety-inducing picture of royal life, we see hope - the potential for freedom in what can often be an agonising watch.
Spencer is coming to Irish cinemas on November 5.