Max Kohn

Politics, Sports & Film Writer, The Paper

Published on February 28, 2022

I personally don’t like the term “Oscar bait.” If a film is a true piece of art, then who cares if it gets nominated for Academy Awards? After all, the Oscars honor the best artistic films of that year. They honor the craft of cinema. And although the film Spencer directed by Pablo Larrain has been labeled as Oscar bait, it has, in my opinion, achieved its primary goal: to create a beautiful and intense film about the untold story of a miserable princess; a phrase that historically has been an oxymoron.

Spencer follows Princess Diana during the royal family’s Christmas retreat in 1991. Diana, played by the amazingly talented Kristen Stewart, who is secretly unhappy, tries to pretend to everyone around her that she is fine. To maintain herself, she embraces the things she enjoys, joking around with her sons, talking earnestly with her dresser (played by Sally Hawkins), and being alone. However, when she feels put upon by the obligations of being a royal, she goes to terrible places. Not only does the film make you feel Diana’s agony, it makes you experience, in the most visceral way you can, instances where the Princess resorts to self harm. The first time I watched the movie, witnessing this kind of scene was horrific. I was squirming in my seat, hands on my head. I felt like I was watching a thriller, not a historical drama. With the brilliant collaboration between screenwriter, Steven Knight, and director, Pablo Larraín, Spencer portrays Diana’s stresses and pains exactly as she experienced them. 

While there are quite a few details that I generally like about this film (The labels on Diana’s dresses having a double meaning with the tags saying “P.O.W”, Diana always trying to wear black even though she isn’t attending a funeral, and many more), the one that stands out to me the most is the beginning title which says “a fable from a true tragedy.” This to me is so important to say due to the nature of many modern historical films. Oftentimes, historical films will completely mess up the actual truth to tell a compelling story. To be honest, after I had watched them, I was upset to learn that movies like “The Social Network”, “Hidden Figures”, and “Shakespeare in Love” were almost all fabrications and twists on reality. However, Pablo Larraín telling me that this story is a fable, made me relieved. It didn’t make me leave the theater going “wow did this actually happen?” “all in one weekend in 1991?” Rather, I left the theater saying to myself “Even though it may not have all happened in one weekend, or even at all, the film tells a powerful story based around the fact that Diana was unhappy with her life.” Unhappy with her marriage, unhappy with the obligations of being a royal and generally, a public figure.