A perverted fairy tale with haunting power or a portrait that sounds terribly hollow. Other than on Kristen Stewart’s performance as Lady Di, Première’s editorial staff are split by Spencer, available January 17 on Prime Video.
FOR. What’s new about Lady Di, a tragic icon captured by biographies of all kinds and a failed biopic (the Diana of Hirschbiegel) and central figure of season 4 of The Crown ? What singular voice can be heard in this deafening concert celebrating a young woman alone against all, with the inevitable sudden disappearance? There is no doubt that Pablo Larraín must have asked this question a thousand times, he who had so brilliantly taken over from Aronofsky in 2017 to tell another legend, Jackie Kennedy. His answer shatters all these questions. As in Jackie, the filmmaker focuses on a few days in the life of his heroine – the Christmas festivities at the Queen’s Estate in Sandringham as her couple with Charles go through their final moments – and builds on that reality to better transcend. In Spencer, he tells “his” Diana in a perverted fairy tale mode, unfolding in a mixture of Hitchcockian psychological thriller, ghost movie and giallo through a double
contradictory movement but perfectly complementary. On the one hand, the filmmaker’s gesture – supported by the sublime light of Claire Mathon (Portrait of the girl on fire) and the haunting music of Johnny Greenwood – who physically feels the mental suffocation of his heroine by shutting her off in her staging. On the other, the gesture of its actress Kristen Stewart who, in a role of rare composition in her career, explodes all the walls of her usual interpretations, dares to overplay, lives from head to toe in the pain and rage of his character. We have never seen her so free, so impressive, so fascinating. And it is by rediscovering an actress that we admire that we rediscover her character. There was something more to say about Lady Spencer.
VS. In Neruda and Jackie, his two previous forays into the biopic (or rather anti-biopic) register, Pablo Larraín offered new, surprising, unexpected points of view on two historical figures: on the one hand, how the Chilean poet had raved his existence ; on the other, how JFK’s widow had shaped his myth. Today he is interested in Spencer, third part of an informal trilogy, in the figure of Lady Di, the time of a Christmas party that the Princess of Wales spends in the company of her stepmother who despises her, her husband who cheats on her, her children she adores, and the whole world who tries, via the ambushed paparazzi, to see her silhouette through the curtains of her bedroom. The difference here is that Larraín obviously has nothing more to say than we already know about the sad legend of the lonely princess, prisoner of her ivory tower, and soon killed by media overexposure. The subject is hackneyed, and the empathy displayed by the filmmaker for this woman who would like to regain control of her existence suddenly seems mechanical, programmatic. We feel that sometimes he would like to take everything to horror cinema, to draw a parallel between the corridors of Sandringham and those of the Overlook Hotel in Shining, but this promise is diluted in sequences of thick symbolism – the specter appearances of martyr Queen Anne Boleyn, or this shot of a dead bird on a country road, maddeningly heavy. There remains Kristen Stewart, almost a film in itself within the film. The actress, after Seberg, here superbly continues her long-term study of blonde icons destroyed by celebrity. Each of her eyelashes is spectacular, but Larraín was unable to give her the setting she deserved.
Spencer, by Pablo Larraín. Starring Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing … Available January 17 on Amazon Prime Video.