Spencer (CREDIT: NEON)

Starring: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Sean Harris, Sally Hawkins, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry, Stella Gonet, Richard Sammel

Director: Pablo Larraín

Running Time: 111 Minutes

Rating: R for A Little Bit of Salty Language

Release Date: November 5, 2021 (Theaters)

If you go see the new Pablo Larraín-directed moving picture Spencer, there is one scene I can pretty much guarantee you won’t be able to forget. I’m talking about the moment when Princess Diana (as played by Kristen Stewart) announces that she is going to masturbate. Self-pleasure is not typically a topic broached in polite company, and the British royal family is perhaps the most stifling of polite company. That moment also sticks out because it’s the only time that Diana says anything like that during the whole movie, and you get the sense that it’s the first time she’s said anything like that in the past twenty years or so, or quite possibly her entire life. It’s hard to break loose when someone’s always watching.

Larraín is adept at crafting claustrophobic environments, and the one in Spencer is like an alternate reality that everyone except Diana has accepted as normal. The action takes place in the days leading up to Christmas, and let’s just say it’s not the most festive atmosphere. Timothy Spall shows up as a new employee whose job it is to “watch,” and I would venture to guess that he was transferred from the Overlook Hotel. He has a knack for always showing up during Diana’s most vulnerable moments, like when she’s binging on sweets in the kitchen in an episode of bulimia. This scene isn’t played as a moment of concern, or an offer for treatment, or much of anything really, except perhaps as a reminder to remain on schedule.

I found the toxic environment constructed in Spencer compelling, but its portrait of the woman at its center didn’t strike me as especially insightful. It didn’t necessarily have to be that way to be successful, but we do spend a lot of time with Diana, so it would be nice to get to know her (or at least the version of her that Larraín and Stewart have created) beyond the public figure. Although, perhaps that lack of clarity was by design. Maybe she was supposed to be opaque all along. If that’s the case, then mission accomplished. But as a viewing experience, it makes for a movie that’s difficult to connect to, though interesting to consider.

Spencer is Recommended If You Like: Ghosts stalking the royal abodes

Grade: 3 out of 5 Christmas Dishes