‘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

‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ Review: Kaiju Ridiculousness Cranked Up a Notch

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If you’ve left Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla feeling like there wasn’t enough monster action to eat up, Michael Dougherty provides so much more of that in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (fittingly enough, whose name is taken from Terry Morse’s American bastardization of Ishirô Honda’s film). But decidedly, you’re also left wondering how much of this feels exciting especially when you’re in the face of nonstop monster action from beginning to end and in that same sense, Godzilla: King of the Monster can be equal parts exhilarating or just overall exhausting. But for longtime fans of the series who were eagerly awaiting to see Mothra or King Ghidorah coming to the screen in an Americanized format, there’s a whole lot that one can eat up at in Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Putting it lightly, it’s a film that took notes from the fan reaction to Gareth Edwards’s take but everything that Michael Dougherty does worse in King of the Monsters might also give you a lot more to appreciate about how Edwards approached the start of the MonsterVerse.

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Why The Shape of Water Deserves Best Picture

UPDATE: The film ended up winning and I couldn’t have been any happier that it did.

You know that old saying where we don’t care about the Oscars in regards to their effect on our opinions of the films that were either nominated or have won? It’s easy enough to say that, but we still make ourselves watch the ceremonies at least because of the hope we retain in ourselves that maybe something we love so dearly has indeed been nominated and has a chance at winning. But considering just how strong a year this has been looking at the Oscar contenders this year, with Lady BirdGet Out, and Phantom Thread up in the running for Best Picture, it’s easy to be satisfied with any of them. But if I had to pick one film from all of these, I think that The Shape of Water would be my go-to. And without further ado, here are among the many reasons that not only do I think it would be a suitable winner, but why it is also my favourite film of 2017 while we’re at it.

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Paddington 2 – Review

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The first Paddington film took myself by a rather nice surprise, given as I’ve had no connection with the titular character and walking out, I saw a sort of charm that loads of modern family films have lacked. It wasn’t merely a family film that kept itself limited to children but created an entire world in itself where everyone felt welcome – bringing out the sense of warmth and fuzziness that one could only imagine an actual teddy bear can bring. Coming into Paddington 2, I expected more or less the same and Paul King certainly didn’t disappoint. It felt nice watching this to let go of my usual cynical self all in the favour of a cute little bear who wants to find only the good in everyone that he meets.

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Paddington – Review

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I’m not really sure what I was expecting from Paddington as I first watched it, but it reminded me of something that I wished more family films had carried in this day and age. It carries all the best aspects of any family movie so that kids can enjoy it, but even adults would be left in awe as they watch together with their own children. It’s a film that knows how to invite a new audience to come along the ride, because it’s hard not to be won over by the sweetness of the presence of Paddington Bear himself. Those of you who would come into Paddington only expecting as much as a cute film about a bear coming into England will end up finding something more special, because what that sets oneself up for is a live action/CGI hybrid for the family done right.

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2017: A Year in Review

Another year is complete, but not without having talked about the wonderful experiences we’ve had at the cinemas. Together with the not-so-wonderful films. But alas, this has been an extraordinary year for films for the highlights still managed to stick their landing inside of our minds – and the inevitable “what about such and such?” will come but I will remind you that it would have been outright impossible for me to have been able to catch virtually every movie that had come out the previous year to make sure I wouldn’t forget other highlights that may not have made it.
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The Shape of Water – Review

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Guillermo del Toro going out to prove that love has no limits – in what may arguably his best film in the English language alongside his best film since Pan’s Labyrinth. Much like Pan’s Labyrinth, what Guillermo del Toro has presented to audiences through The Shape of Water is a perfect fairy tale for grown ups, because it brings its viewers back through time in the same way that a memory would. It feels refreshing but also relaxing, yet the reminder that Guillermo del Toro places his viewers within is a sense of tranquility – and often from the most unexpected ways imaginable. But that’s one among many things we know a director like Guillermo del Toro has been best at, because his imagination isn’t anything like what any other director can present on any day.

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Godzilla (2014) – Review

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Was hoping to enjoy it more on this go after having been disappointed from a theatrical viewing, but on a revisit my opinion nevertheless remained the same. Gareth Edwards, a director only known at the time for a small scale science fiction film, Monsters, started off Legendary Pictures’s MonsterVerse on a more middling note than anything. Being the first American Godzilla film after the atrocity that is Roland Emmerich’s film, Edwards seems to have a grasp on what made a great monster film as a whole at least by remaining within the spirit of the original Japanese films – and yet it’s still somewhat lacking. As a star for the MonsterVerse it was intriguing to see what would have come out as a result from Godzilla but the most it evokes is that it’s just desperate to start up an entire series of films rather than standing out on its own: which I suppose I can get behind with what more it teases.

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