Spencer might be a lot of things but perhaps, the best way to describe Kristen Stewart’s film is – unraveling. The prefix used is of the actress and not the director, because certainly, Spencer is fully Kristen Stewart’s and Princess Diana’s.
The People’s Princess
There are likely very few people who are unfamiliar with Princess Diana’s tale. It is described at the beginning of the film as a “Fable from a True Tragedy.” Her life has certainly served as news, gossip, slander, inspiration, and even as a warning. But perhaps with Spencer, we see her life once again, in a different way. This time, we see it as a delusion.
The film plays out in tense, fractured pieces, where Kristen Stewart surrenders to the trackless breakdown that is breaking Diana down. We are let into her eating disorder, her pain at being cheated on, and her resistance towards being fantastically controlled for “a bit of fun”. We feel her growing desperation, and we are afraid of her impulses. It is only in the moments with her sons that we see the only happy ending that could await Her Royal Highness.
We are watching a woman, the Princess of Wales to be precise, and we are watching her exist resolutely as two people. Her husband, the vilified and supremely distant Prince Charles, tells her as much. Be two people: “the real one, and the one in front of the camera.” But these are not the two people she is struggling to be. It is either the Princess of Wales, whose dresses are marked and chosen for her, or Diana Spencer, who played with hula hoops and ate fast food, as to whom she must occupy existence.
A Christmas Affair
We begin with military trucks and soldiers who walk with deliberation, clearly carrying boxes of great importance. They are deposited into a kitchen, and with uncommon seriousness, the kitchen staff enters and opens the boxes of food and fruit. The effect is immediate. Nobody is laughing, because it is clear that these boxes of food are as important to the country as a trunk of machine guns. It is also a hint. The food does indeed serve as ammunition for our princess.
The traditions that mark Christmas with the Royals seem unnecessary, ridiculous, and unsettling. They sit on a chair that serves as a scale, as each member is weighed. The initial wild thought: are they meant to be within a certain weight range? The disgust is immediate, and we agree with Diana as she indicates she chooses to avoid it. But we learn a moment later that it is tradition to put on 3 pounds after the weekend, a sign that Christmas was truly enjoyed. It is a staggering realization, and we know instantly that whatever else we may look for in this story, relatability is not one of them. We will never know the true power or nature of what Diana was up against.
There is also the case of the pheasants. We see one early on, dead on the road as car after car arrives. But none, run over it. It manages to stay between the wheels. It is interesting to find out later, that these were the pheasants bred for the royals to shoot at. As the head chef, the only man who speaks to Diana like she is a human being, explains to her- they would not exist if there was no shooting to be done.
With every tradition and every little detail of royal life, we are led into the disturbing reality that the royal family has chosen to lead.
Pablo Larrain certainly chooses juxtaposition as he places fear, instability, and a tone that is consistently erratic to tell a story set in a palace where the silence is almost haunting but still there is a screeching sense of authority that is omnipresent. It is reminiscent of the horror genre, as shadowy figures watch from the silence, trusted confidantes are sent away, and the humans do not seem to behave like humans.
It is difficult to pick sides in this story. This is primarily because we are not given sides to choose from. We are aware that it is “they” who are responsible for the expected control in Diana’s life. We know that “they” are always waiting for her at dinner, for portraits, for dessert, and for presents. But we are barely allowed to hear them, or even really see them. They are not people, but their presence is iron-clad. We see them this way because during this weekend, at this time in Diana’s life, this is how she sees them.
Diana is haunted repeatedly by the ghost of Anne Boleyn, clearly summoned by Diana’s own fears. This is the woman whose head was cut off for the sake of her husband’s affair. It is the fate that Diana knows for sure awaits her. It is what drives her to pain in the form of wire cutters and causes her to stand teetering above a flight of stairs. But as the ghost, who is clearly her own creation, stops her, we see Diana realize somewhere that she can fight. There is still a self within, who is trying to preserve her life.
‘Spencer’ Ending Explained
Finally, the pearls her husband gifted both her and his mistress are ripped off. The scarecrow from her childhood is dressed in her own clothes. The confidante she momentarily doubted is actually in love with her, and she can finally laugh. And the Princess of Wales finally gives up her crown to become Diana Spencer.
Her son does not want to shoot, and so his mother walks out into the shooting grounds and demands that her sons come with her. Her husband obliges, and tells her sons to “help her”. The three run off together, into the woods and onto her little car, where she takes them out to KFC. Her husband and the royal family, who had chosen their life, stand behind her with their guns.
They do not shoot at her; their guns are to shoot at pheasants.
‘Spencer’ is a 2021 Biopic Drama film starring Kristen Stewart in the lead role. It is directed by Pablo Larraín.