Set during the three days surrounding Christmas, Spencer focuses on the emotional journey of Princess Diana (Kristen Stewart) as she struggles to survive her holidays with the Royal Family. With her marriage crumbling and knowledge of Charle’s affair with Camilla now public knowledge, Diana arrives at Sandringham emotionally exhausted and looking forward to time with her sons. However, as she is forced to endure soul-draining traditions that leave her empty, she continues waste away internally. Broken and weary, Diana begins to rebel against the decorum that she has come to despite, raising the ire of a new employee (Timothy Spall) who has been hired to keep her under his strict watchful eye.
In Spencer, director Pablo Larrain weaves a tale that feels more like gothic horror than it does a tale of royalty. As his follow-up to the superb character drama Jackie, this film takes a more thematic approach to its narrative than it does factual recreation of events. In doing so, he is able to create his own reality that also still feels true to Diana’s emotional stress over her last few years in the Royal Family.
While there are those who would view the hallowed halls of Sandringham Estate as a modern-day Camelot filled with royal servants and quaint traditions, Spencer takes a decidedly different view. Instead of emphasizing Elizabethan charm and mystique, Lorraine imbues the country house with an ominous sense of oppression and dread.
As her traumas unravel, Diana is shown to be a woman who is being haunted by ghosts, both figuratively and literally. Pressured to conform by the power of the monarchy, Diana’s inner strength begins to bubble to the surface and she begins to take matters into her own hands. For her, pleasing the system that surrounds her is not as important as the health of her soul and so she looks for opportunities to give herself space to breathe again.
Spencer premiered at TIFF ’21 on Wednesday, September 15th, 2021.