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“Spencer” is a Christmas movie, where a Dysfunctional Extended Family Gathers on a Holiday to Party

“Spencer” is a Christmas movie, in which a big, dysfunctional family gathers at the holiday to feast, exchange gifts and engage in peculiar traditions meant to provide “a bit of fun.”

“Spencer” is a horror movie about a fragile woman held captive in a spooky mansion, tormented by sadistic monsters and their treacherous minions.

“Spencer” is a psychological thriller about a powerful, unaccountable authoritarian cabal conspiring to crush the spirit of an independent-minded rebel. Titanic (1997) Film Online

“Spencer” is a love story, a melodrama of maternal devotion, an early-’90s fashion parade and a very British baking show. (The scones and pastries are organic.)

“Spencer,” described by its director, Pablo Larraín, as “a fable from a true tragedy,” is all of the above, and also a fact-inspired drama about Diana, Princess of Wales, played with grit and grace by Kristen Stewart. Diana, who died in a car crash in 1997 — and whose maiden name gives Larraín’s film its title — is hardly an obscure figure. A global celebrity and tabloid fixture in her lifetime, she remains somehow irresistible. Reminiscence 2021 Film Online

Her troubled marriage to Prince Charles and her vexed relations with her royal in-laws have been subject to scrutiny from every angle, most recently in “The Crown,” where she was played in the last season by Emma Corrin. (In the next one, Elizabeth Debicki will take up the role.) A superficial reading of “Spencer,” which takes place over three days (from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day) in 1991, might see it as a sidebar to “The Crown,” lingering over a minor episode in a vast epic and isolating a single, relatively minor character amid the pomp and pageantry of palace life. Zăpadă, Ceai și Dragoste 2021 Film Online

That is exactly wrong. Larraín and the screenwriter, Steven Knight, offer not a footnote but an ardent and unsparing rebuke to the mythical monarchist mumbo-jumbo that the Netflix series (to which I am entirely addicted) exists to promote. The conceit of “The Crown” is that, for all their flaws, defeats and compromises — or because of all that — the members of the House of Windsor are fundamentally more interesting than anybody else. Their dilemmas are more exquisite, their choices more tragic, than anything the commoners can know. Last Night in Soho 2021 Film Online

This is a persistent conceit in the literature of power, one that Larraín, wielding his camera like a rapier and Jonny Greenwood’s lacerating score like a stiletto, leaves in tatters. The only members of the royal family whose voices are heard in “Spencer” are Charles (Jack Farthing) and his mother (Stella Gonet). Queen Elizabeth is as bland and cold as a dish of old porridge. Her eldest son, at least with Diana, is callous and cruel, mocking her eating disorder and lecturing her on the necessity of keeping up appearances. Antlers 2021 Film Online

“There have to be two of you,” he says — one for “the people” and one in private. (Like much of Knight’s script, these lines explain things a little too bluntly.) But one of the reasons Diana was called “the people’s princess” was that she seemed always and authentically herself, an idea that Larraín, Knight and Stewart implicitly endorse. She’s devoted to “what’s real,” and describes her tastes and interests, in a flawless aristocratic accent, as “middle class.” Fast food. Musical theater. Driving her European sports car instead of being chauffeured in a Rolls-Royce. Boku no Hero Academia: World Heroes Mission 2021 Film online

She wants to be herself, and she wants to be free. Larraín, who is Chilean, has made a handful of tough, unsettling films about life in his country under a military dictatorship determined to control the thought and behavior of its subjects. While “Spencer” hardly equates Queen Elizabeth with Pinochet, the power that the crown exerts over Diana can accurately be described as totalitarian.

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