Spencer

Right, so, anyone who knows me knows that I kinda despise the biscuit tin fetishisation of a set of parasitic upper-classholes, and the embarrassment that is this country in the 21st century still running with the fucking feudal system. And as an object of that, Diana became the focus for an outpouring of maudlin posthumous deification which continues to this day. As someone who doesn’t want to join the jamboree, you might wonder why I went to see this at all.

The cast is the answer. It has a rocking cast. Kristen Stewart is rightfully praised for her title role. Timothy Spall, a stalwart if underappreciated golden shard in the list of national treasures. Sean Harris, as always, manages to bring heart and sincerity even in a smaller role. Everyone in it brings it.

And as I watched, I really began to enjoy it. If you put a pin in the actual reality of it, and just go with it, it’s really quite good.

It’s a Christmas ghost story.

A young mother in a loveless and faithless marriage tries to survive a Christmas weekend with her in-laws as she starts to unravel from the weight of expectations on her. You don’t have to wonder why she ends up bulimic and self-harming when you are told what to wear and when to wear it and where to wear it, when you eat and what you’ll eat, when you get up and when you open your curtains in the morning is all decided for you. The sense of constant failure is present from the opening scenes. Constantly being late, constantly being a basketcase, constantly failing to be able to fulfil what’s required of you without losing it.

And on this cold Christmas, this hungry and spurned woman begins to see ghosts. She sees and speaks to the ghost of Anne Boleyn, another woman who gave herself in marriage but whose husband loved another. Diana haunts her old family home, and finds her father’s old coat on a scarecrow, like a warning calling out from her past. All of it whispers, “Remember who you are”.

This film is pretty good for showing what is enduring about the Diana myth. Yes, it’s part the fairytale archetype of the princess sad in her tower. But it’s also the opposite, the identifiably human part of it. Almost no woman can’t see herself in this story. It manages to be both wish-fulfillment – the costumes, the sets, the trappings – and a universalism about our most intimate selves. We are made to fulfil roles, and don’t feel as though our welfare and inner-self matters as much to others than that we play our parts to perfection. And for women, that feeling is deeply set, because ours is traditionally the private sphere, our social roles are wife, mother, daughter or daughter-in-law. So we cannot escape back to a private realm of love and nurture when our role performance becomes lacking and crumbles. It is not simply the disappointment and displeasure of our bosses but our husbands. For women, the loss of love is intimately entwined with social failure.

And that’s why Spencer is quite an enjoyable film, because it sticks to the emotions of its story. It doesn’t tell the story of Diana, Princess of Wales, it tells a story that could be set in any time or in any place. Surprisingly engaging.

If you like this…