spencer: somehow not a movie about icarly

by sophiewolfe

A lot of women are sad. A lot of women place an extreme and psychologically damaging importance on the way they look, the way they hold themselves, and above all the clothes that they choose to wear. A lot of us carry an ancient feminine urge toward self destruction, a desire that everything go up in flames, including ourselves. We sort of want to laugh lightly and look beautiful and be adored, and then we also sort of want to fuck shit up all over the place. Women like this have always been fascinated, fed, and sustained by one historical figure who perfectly embodies this specific dilemma of existence: Diana Frances Spencer, Princess of Wales. 

Diana is the subject of Pablo Lorrain’s newest film Spencer, a sparse and devastating biopic about Diana’s experience spending Christmas at Buckingham Palace in the early ‘90s. Spencer comes on the heels of Lorrain’s 2016 film Jackie, a sparse and heartbreaking biopic about Jackie Kennedy’s experience in the week after her husband’s assassination. Okay, we’re seeing some parallels here, sure. Lorrain’s not exactly diving out of his comfort zone on this one, so what? Is it not enough to see Kristen Stewart, fully out of her mind, twirling around the haunted halls of Buckingham Palace, dancing herself to death? Pablo Lorrain loves exploring the lives of tragic female historical figures as much as John Cassavetes loved exploring the lives of Men Who Are Bad. Every artist has their muse. It can’t be helped.

Spencer is all about the vibes. Like any good movie, it is a strange and psychosexual clusterfuck of a drama, fascinated by appearances, lies, and frivolity. We watch it without blinking maybe because we like The Outfits, and maybe because we see a bit of ourselves in the way she times her nervous breakdowns like clockwork, the way she holds her hands perfectly still, the way that all she really wants to do is drive too fast and eat some Kentucky Fried Chicken on a bench. In the world of Spencer, decadence is evil, clothes have the power to kill, and British people are all categorically psychotic. These are all ideas I can safely get behind. 

A woman is a tempest, sure, whatever, consult your Shakespeare and grab onto your copies of A Room of One’s Own. But Diana, as Lorrain conceives her here, isn’t trying to Gone Girl herself. She’s no Amy Dunne. She’s a bit off her Elizabethan rocker, sure, but all she really wants to do is hang out with her kids and be able to open her own bedroom curtains without fear of being tersely reprimanded by some random military dude with a mustache. In one of Spencer’s strongest scenes, Diana shares a laugh on the beach with her gay dressmaker (played by fish-fucking icon Sally Hawkins), who confesses her love for Diana and then argues that laughter could be the thing to save her life. It’s a nice thought, though from where we’re sitting, here in the godforsaken future, we know that no amount of LOLs could block Queen Lizzie’s inevitable silver bullet. Any story about Diana is painted by her death. Pablo Lorrain understands this phenomenon, that Diana is more ghost than woman, and that there’s nothing more the girlies love these days than a good old fashioned ghost story, especially if it includes an allegorical pearl necklace. Would recommend to anyone who has ever stared mournfully at themselves in a bathroom mirror for more than three consecutive minutes. 

Categories: nov 23, review, sophie wolfe, vol 25

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