Horror in regal proportion
Spencer deviates from the standard structure and thematic experience or story that modern biopics seem to follow like absolute commandments. By blazing it’s own trail and indulging in it’s surreal art house depictions of madness and suffocating restriction at the hands of omnipotent expectations and unseen, judging eyes and voices Spencer is able to become something else, a briefly dazzling example how a biopic can be used to connect the audience to an individual’s experience in a powerful and horrifying way however after it’s fleeting first 2 acts of brilliance in craft and thematic storytelling Spencer falls apart in it’s painfully conventional 3rd act.
Spencer at points can feel like a horror film. Despite the lush comfy palettes and serene environments cinematographer Claire Mathon lures you into with Spencer is surrounded by an inescapable feeling of dread looming over every quiet establishing shot or personal close up. Spencer explores the horrific expectations of regal status through the same set up used by dozens of classic and modern horror films. Cabin fever. Diana is locked up in the impossibly large halls and fields of Sandringham however for as seemingly endless the vast scope of it’s walls, dining halls and libraries are Spencer is a suffocating experience that’s cruel limitation of Diana’s freedoms juxtaposes the grand fantastical nature of the house and the stature the surrounding family member carry themselves with. Films like the shining and the lighthouse show us the horrors of cabin fever. The disturbing inevitability that corrodes our preconceived understanding of our own safety and sanity as we lose ourselves in the cages we find ourselves in and the familiarity we share with the walls and people arounds us becomes a curse, a dagger that seeps deeper and deeper with each passing day before the feelings of kindness we embrace each other in are poisoned into delusions of betrayal, hate and fear. Spencer portrays Diana’s waking nightmare with the same techniques Kubrick and Eggers utilise to portray their own depictions of familiarity and images of family and friends being used against the protagonists. Conscious illusions, day dream sequences and a haunting soundtrack that seems to interject any semblance of safety replacing it with heightened anxiety, adrenaline and an ominous discomfort. Violins loudly screech as Diana unravels under the stress of living a miserable life, following rigid formalities and woefully outdated tradition. Spencer is able to perfectly juggle it’s intricate setups and purposeful filmmaking well through it’s second act but falls apart when wrapping the experience up in a satisfying way.
The striking visuals become devoid of charm and subtlety choosing to approach the shots in a safe uninspired manner. The film abandons it’s dark exploration of horror through Diana’s fear and insecurity and instead chooses to wrap up it’s story in a safe feel good ending that contradicts and even backtracks the brilliant tone and atmosphere that had already been established in a way that seemed scared to be bold in the sea of mediocre biopics, reeling back it’s own ambition, afraid of leaving the audience with a demoralising yet important message.