‘Spencer’ TIFF Review: The Unseen Tragedy of a Beloved Figure

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Spencer is a film that tells you it is a true story, albeit a fable – maybe the most fitting way in which it can be set up by way of Pablo Larraín. Much like Jackie, Larraín doesn’t opt for a conventional approach to a biopic, this time choosing to give an idea of what was going through her head. Knowing the image that Princess Diana left behind in the wake of her death, it’s a risky way to have her story told, especially with how the British consciousness can be very protective of the Royal Family. Through this, we finally get to see Diana as a human, and that’s only one aspect to Spencer that allows it to really click with me, more so than most other Larraín films to this date have done.

Telling a story that takes place over a Christmas holiday, Spencer starts with the most fitting manner, we’re seeing Princess Diana being lost and needing to find her way back. This new iteration of Princess Diana’s story features Kristen Stewart in the title role, shows Diana in a cold marriage together with Prince Charles, who is played by Jack Farthing. It would be easy enough to imagine that this fictionalized account of Princess Diana happens some time within the final years of her life, facing constant pressure as a result of her stature imprisoning her. Through this perspective, it allows the audience to connect with Princess Diana like she was one of us and the results are wonderful.

Much of Spencer is built around fantasy as we’re seeing Diana’s life happening right in front of us. Everywhere she goes, she cannot escape the image that being a part of the Royal Family has created for her. We’re seeing her unhappy with the way her life is being controlled, but we also get a chance to see Princess Diana not as another part of the Royal Family – which already made me come on board with how Larraín chooses to tell a story about her. Every moment of Spencer is shot beautifully, through the beautiful camerawork of DP Claire Mathon, but what’s most captivating about Spencer is just how Larraín gives us the inside look at her frame of mind, akin to a horror movie.

But I think what really sells you into the approach comes from Kristen Stewart’s performance; to say that this is a career best is only underselling her efforts here. She’s committed to this role as Princess Diana in a way that I could only ever imagine Stewart could – but there’s a particularly haunting quality to the way she embodies Princess Diana. It’s haunting in the sense that you feel the impending doom coming her way, from simply wanting to be freed, yet we don’t know what from. This isn’t a film about the tragedy we know and associate Princess Diana with, yet it’s knowing this that still gives us a sense of what she wants to avoid. It’s hard enough for me to imagine anyone other than Stewart bringing any of this into such a role, if anything, it just solidifies my belief that Stewart is one among the best actresses working today.

I can’t say that a lot of this always worked for me though – while I admire the way this story unfolds, there’s still something that had always kept me from truly loving this. Much like Jackie, a lot of what doesn’t work for me in Spencer comes down to its screenplay. Written by Steven Knight, whose previous credits include Dirty Pretty Things (for which he received an Academy Award nomination), Eastern Promises, and Locke, what doesn’t work for me in Spencer comes from the way Knight seems to keep things a tad too on the nose. It never really does the movie any favours, especially when it comes to seeing Princess Diana as a person. Much as I enjoyed seeing Stewart playing the role, I found that it became difficult to really become invested in this side of Princess Diana, but Knight doesn’t write her in a way that showcases what’s going through her mind – as all that doom is external. With Larraín choosing to frame this moment in Diana’s life as a psychological drama, Knight’s screenplay never seems to stretch to show her as dynamic.

Nonetheless, I think there’s a whole lot to love all around – because Spencer is an exquisitely crafted film. It doesn’t feel like a movie that’s bound to the romanticize the Royal Family, especially in its portrait of unending doom from being part of such, but that great tragedy before knowing Princess Diana’s fate is what keeps its best moments incredibly effective. This is maybe the most that I’ve found that I was able to connect with a Pablo Larraín film, for like the best biopics should (and many fail to do), it brings you closer to Princess Diana not as a history lesson, but as a person. Together with a career-best role from Kristen Stewart and Jonny Greenwood’s score, Spencer isn’t a film you’ll want to miss.


Watch the trailer right here.

All images via NEON.


Directed by Pablo Larraín
Screenplay by Steven Knight
Produced by Juan de Dios Larraín, Jonas Dornbach, Paul Webster, Pablo Larraín, Janine Jackowski, Maren Ade
Starring Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Jack Farthing, Sally Hawkins, Sean Harris
Release Date: November 5, 2021
Running Time: 111 minutes

‘Raging Bull’ Review: Martin Scorsese at His Most Difficult, Taxing, and Personal

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Nothing better defines the traits of a Martin Scorsese film than the grief, guilt, and anger of his own subjects – and Raging Bull is his most brash film of the sort. In telling the story of the self-destructive boxer’s life, Martin Scorsese does not hold back from showing you the sort of person that Jake La Motta was, but the film also strikes its own viewers in that same manner which Taxi Driver had done so: you can’t help but feel drawn to the entire world around La Motta feeling sorry for everyone around him, but also through means of confronting La Motta at his absolute worst. All of this would be more than enough to define what is arguably the most difficult film of Martin Scorsese’s career, but it also resulted in one of his finest films too.

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‘GoodFellas’ Review: Confronting a Life in False Glamour Right In Front of Your Eyes

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It’s easy to remember the films that sparked your own love of film at one point of your life or another, and during my early teens, one of those films was none other than Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. As an impressionable teenager who was pushing myself to watch more films in general, I remember first watching this on a television broadcast and I’ve been watching it again and again every chance I had; whether it be on subsequent reruns or at my own home to that point where every beat had been rooted so deeply in my head. And although it may not be my favourite Martin Scorsese film, it still encapsulates everything that I find to be what makes his work so wholly wonderful.

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‘The Irishman’ Review: Martin Scorsese Revisits and Reinvents Familiar Themes in Epic Crime Saga to Wondrous Results

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As he nears his eighties, it’s impressive to think about how Martin Scorsese manages to find new ways to push the possibilities of what the medium of film can accomplish even as he continues treading familiar subject matter. And after having remained in development hell for so many years, he releases The Irishman for Netflix, which resulted in possibly his most expensive film and longest film to date, but considering the sort of original content that Netflix has been known to fund over the years it’s almost incredible to think that they would let Scorsese make a film of this sort with a budget that almost matches up with a modern superhero film. As familiar as the subject matter would be to many Scorsese fans, those entering expecting another GoodFellas or Casino will find themselves in for a whole other ride entirely; this may be one of his best films in recent memory too.

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‘Honey Boy’ TIFF Review: An Unflinching, Heart-Wrenching Self-Portrait Unlike Any Other

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The public perception of Shia LaBeouf has altered far too drastically over the years, but he’s always remained such a fascinating presence in every sense of the word. Now as he takes on the challenge of writing a screenplay for the first time, there’s another site to Shia LaBeouf that feels more exposed on the screen – and as we get to see more of this from him there also comes Honey Boy, a stunning self-portrait that also serves as a therapy session in a sense. What some can call self-indulgent in this film about the strained relationship between himself and his father – there’s also something heart-wrenching to be found that makes Honey Boy so beautiful too. With this also being the narrative feature film debut of Alma Har’el, this also leaves me looking forward to what’s next in store for her.

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‘The Laundromat’ TIFF Review: Soderbergh’s Latest True Story Comedy is a Baffling Joke

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There came a point where Steven Soderbergh had announced an intention to retire from filmmaking yet it seemed all too clear that he couldn’t leave the medium. It was long-thought that his last theatrical feature film was going to be Side Effects, but he came back to the big screen with Logan Lucky four years later – which he soon followed with films that were shot entirely with the use of iPhones, Unsane and High Flying Bird. Knowing the sort of filmmaker that Soderbergh has established himself as over his prolific career, it’s only fitting that he made another film that takes down an entire system but even the results of what this could sound like turn out so much stranger than expected. As for whether or not the film is good, I’m still having trouble finding out the answer to that myself.

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‘Rocketman’ Review: A Perfect Tribute to a Life Beyond the Yellow Brick Road

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Rocketman isn’t so much a biopic about Elton John as it is a film that indulges into the fantasies that have defined his creative process, while telling his story in a digestible manner. But at that, what director Dexter Fletcher presents to the screen in Rocketman is everything that is so unapologetically Elton John at that, without ever shying away from the roughest parts of his lifestyle – for he notably said that he never lived a PG-13 life as one of the world’s best-selling musicians. Yet it’s always the best parts of the film that remain every bit as glorious as they possibly could ever be, whether it be the sex, drugs, or just living at the height of one’s own life within the 1970’s, all creating what isn’t only the perfect portrait of Elton John as an artist but also as a person. It’s impressive enough that Dexter Fletcher manages to make a film that celebrates everything Elton John had made himself out to be from beginning to end, because there’s a point to which you’ll find yourself feeling like you aren’t watching a music biopic anymore. Putting it lightly, I think it’s gonna be a long, long time before we get another film of this sort – because even if it may not be perfect it still soars up higher than most modern biopics would.

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The Fragmented Beauty of At Eternity’s Gate: A Review

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I thought for a minute that after Loving Vincent I would be put off from watching more films about the life of Vincent Van Gogh, yet Julian Schnabel comes out with a new take on the life of the troubled painter with At Eternity’s Gate. But there’s something about a mix like this that would only make a blend seem so incredibly tempting, and it’s made clear through the fact that Schnabel’s work had also been influenced by his own artistry as a painter, therefore his view of the very artistic process that would have allowed Vincent Van Gogh to become so distinctive would have that added touch of being told by another artist in that same regard. Schnabel’s mindset as a painter also adds yet another dimension to exploring the troubled psychology of an artist like Vincent Van Gogh, because it’s be difficult enough to describe what went on in his mind. But perhaps it would only be fitting enough that the film about his own artistic vision would be equally baffling in that same measure and if there were anything else that allowed At Eternity’s Gate to become so mesmerizing, it would already come forward in Willem Dafoe’s portrayal of the artist.

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Colette Review: A Biopic About Sexual Freedom With One of Keira Knightley’s Best Performances

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Keira Knightley is a star whose presence I have often enjoyed onscreen more often than the films she’s in themselves. Perhaps it’s also come forth from my general lack of interest in period pieces, but Colette never stayed within the realms of what I would have expected it to be. On paper, it sounds like it could easily have been any other film that Keira Knightley would have attached her name to, especially given the setting and the subject matter having been based on a real person, but what Wash Westmoreland presents with Colette also carries a more seductive quality that I must also admit I didn’t expect to see right away. It’s seductive in the sense that Keira Knightley’s onscreen presence has always been, especially as she takes on new appearances under the elaborate costume design. Although if I were also to talk about the sort of turn that a film like Colette would have been from the films of hers that I’ve already familiarized myself with for so long, then it would also be worth noting that sort of person whose story she brings to life here.

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Bohemian Rhapsody is Insultingly Formulaic and a Vaguely Homophobic Portrait of a Queer Icon: A Review

Queen was a band whose music defined an entire generation, and over the years their popularity never would die down. But between every album there was a whole lot more that came along the way especially given how fascinating a subject like Freddie Mercury is. Beloved by many, and also having established himself as one of the most recognizable queer icons in history, trying to make a biopic about their history was always going to be a difficult subject to tackle and to say the least, a film like Bohemian Rhapsody only tries to go so far. But “trying” can only get you somewhere, because that’s one way of describing where everything had gone wrong with Bohemian Rhapsody. If you’re already thinking of many of the most influential bands of all time, whether it be generation-defining names like The Beatles or Nirvana, you’d already imagine that there would be many tensions coming along the way – and Queen weren’t saints in that same regard either. But there comes a point where you’re looking at a story about a band struggling to remain together as difficult as their relationships may be and outright lying to the audience through the obvious favouring of many members over the other. And unfortunately, Bohemian Rhapsody happens to be the latter.

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