Fly away. Before it’s too late.
Lost in the asphalt ocean, drowning in creeping anxiety and a consciousness torn between two dissonant worlds. The raging pull of the waves sending you further adrift as the struggle to return to normalcy becomes increasingly fruitless, trapped beneath the overbearing and oppressing weight of archaic tradition. What was once familiar has grown hazy and immaterial, eroded by rigid, ornate precision, a now esoteric fog covering all but the tattered remains of a lost youth, waving listlessly in the winter breeze.
The soldiers march with uniform cadence into the kitchen, carrying heavy steel boxes of potent savory ammunition, preparation for a sensory assault of gluttony and abundance. The sleeping halls begin to wake, their dusty dormancy interrupted to be adorned with tasteful baroque accoutrement in time for the festivities. As the grand suites and extravagant rooms become lively with holiday havoc, the air grows colder and the walls constrict, the suffocating air of proper procedure slowly bearing down. Gasping for air, staring through the windows with seething envy at the road’s escape over the horizon.
A film of atmospheric emotion, an evocative air of tortured anxiety and encroaching oppression. Pablo Larraín’s exploration of Diana’s fractured psyche as it suffers beneath the weight of overwhelming forces trying to form her into a picturesque ideal, another pawn in a game of institution and lineage. “A fable from a true tragedy,” the opening texts reads, before the discordant symphonic tones of Jonny Greenwood begin to blare into the halls. Setting expectations of the film’s ethereal approach to storytelling as it eschews a concrete narrative arc based firmly in reality for something far more interested in a creeping dread that lines the fringes of the frame. Perhaps even more powerfully evocative in its choices of omission than those of inclusion, its reiterated framing disregarding the faces of the royals until they become nothing but forces of the latent dissonance and crushing dread.
The time bleeds together in a place with no future, a watery haze blurring the hours, eurythmic mania only separated by the intrusive outfit changes, delicately selected to paint an ornate portrait of falsified perfection. The estate’s constricting presence manifested, silk asphyxiating and pearls weighing like stones upon the neck. The film’s dedication to eliciting emotion from the symbolic and atmospheric is unwavering to a fault, at times breaking free from its high concept restraint to move towards the pointed and direct, often feeling out of place in their grounded specificity. The haunting spirit of Anne Boleyn walks the halls adorned with elaborate threads, a constantly restated notion towards their similarly dark ends. The plight of the pheasant is evoked throughout, needless tradition begetting a thoughtless slaughter of the caged, unable to escape their preordained fates.
Despite a tendency to overstate its thematic inflections it maintains a powerful undercurrent of unspoken tragedy, a tangible air of dreading imminence. Larraín’s direction never gives in to the feeling, letting it permeate even through its moments of resonant catharsis. Claire Mathon’s stunning photography immaculately frames color and space, constantly centrally focused on its subject while the rest skulks at the edges. Jonny Greenwood’s score harmonizes and clashes the film’s two disparate halves, an anxious cacophony sending nervous dissonance through immaculate symphonies of strings and keys. At the center of it all is Kristen Stewart’s magnificent performance, a precise and perfect character study of an existence in crisis, threatened by overwhelming forces that lurk beyond every corner and brandish the notion of violence with an underscoring malicious tone. Nuanced pain that remains present even in the blissful moments of simple happiness.
Spencer is a beautiful film that understands the essential symbiosis of both why and how we tell stories, its methodology feeding into its sharp interrogation of the royal institution while ensuring it never loses focus on the importance of its central character. There’s an urgency to it, a knowing movement that lingers beyond the final frame without need for a deliberate statement. A pain that stings every nerve of Diana’s body, through her and far beyond, reaching down each winding road and waterway as the insistent oppression cloaked in necessity for tradition siphons the life force of all it touches. They can hear you.