Spencer Parent Guide
This isn't history, it's a fantasy - and one completely lacking in subtlety.
Parent Movie Review
The metaphors begin early in Spencer, with a dead pheasant on the road being repeatedly run over by military vehicles bringing supplies to Sandringham House. Lest viewers don’t get the hint, director Pablo Larrain scripts a discussion between Diana, Princess of Wales (Kristen Stewart) and a senior palace official, Major Alistair Gregory (Timothy Spall), over the cruelty of the annual pheasant hunt. Diana speaks in defense of the brightly colored birds, but the Major insists that they are so stupid that even if they’re not shot, they’re destined to die anyway. Diana also talks to the head chef and is upset to learn that so many birds are killed that they can’t all be eaten and will wind up in the trash. The parallel is not subtle: Diana is beautiful and naïve, she is being cruelly and pointlessly hunted, and she will never fly again.
Spencer is a highly fictionalized account of a three-day Christmas break Diana spends with the Royal Family in 1991, one year before the end of her marriage to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing). Throughout the film, Diana struggles to maintain her emotional equilibrium in the face of her in-laws’ stony hostility. As their disdain overwhelms her, she loses her battle with bulimia, cuts her skin with wire cutters, fantasizes about suicide, and hallucinates about Anne Boleyn (Amy Manson).
With the Anne Boleyn subplot, Larrain again abandons any attempt at subtlety. This doomed bride was the second wife of King Henry VIII, who had her beheaded. The message is crystal clear: in this family, unsatisfactory wives end up dead. Larrain irresponsibly tips a hat to the Diana conspiracists when he has the unhappy princess ask, “Will they kill me, do you think?”
Thankfully, Diana’s death is in the future, so the rest of the film focuses on Diana’s quest for freedom. She’s trapped in a life of stifling royal protocol and estate staff constrict her further as they try to protect her from the photographers who hound her. There are petty cruelties inflicted by the royals: everyone must be weighed upon arrival, her favorite dresser is dismissed, Charles insists that the curtains in her dressing room be sewn shut. But Diana wants autonomy and the ability to drive by herself, select her own clothes, play with her sons, listen to pop music, and enjoy fast food. Even the movie’s title plays into this theme: Spencer is Diana’s maiden name, and it is a reminder of her lighthearted childhood. Throughout the film, she tries to return to that golden period.
Determined to see his unsatisfactory wife adapt to the narrow role of future queen, Charles lectures her on the need to create two personas: her real self and a public personality that can fulfill necessary responsibilities. Unfortunately, Diana is unable to split herself in two; instead, she starts coming apart as her mind fractures under the strain. Her stress is clearly demonstrated in the abovementioned self-destructive behaviors, and also in the movie’s profanity, including five sexual expletives uttered by the princess. There is also some coded sexual conversation and a crude mention of masturbation. Compared to most Restricted films, this negative content is relatively light, but the thematic issues are best suited to mature audiences and this movie isn’t recommended for young viewers.
At the beginning of the film, Spencer is described as a “fable from a true tragedy”. That’s how it’s best viewed, not as history but as a work of fiction involving historical figures. It seems oddly appropriate that Diana, whose every movement was tracked by the press and and sold as a fantasy to global audiences should wind up in another work of make believe. She can’t be seen as a fairy tale princess anymore, but this film tries to depict her as a figure of self-directed liberation. Whether it’s any more accurate than the stories peddled in the 1980s remains to be seen.Directed by Steven Knight. Starring Kristen Sewart, Jack Farthing, Stella Gonet, Jack Nielen, Freddie Spry. Running time: 111 minutes. Theatrical release November 5, 2021. Updated February 24, 2022
Watch the trailer for Spencer
Rating & Content Info
Why is Spencer rated R? Spencer is rated R by the MPAA for some language
Violence: A dead bird is repeatedly run over by a convoy of trucks. A woman asks if she’s going to be killed. A woman threatens to cut her clothes with a knife. A woman cuts her arm with wire cutters. A woman imagines throwing herself down the stairs. People go target shooting. People shoot at pheasants; no dead birds are seen. A man tells a story about a fellow soldier being shot in the head.
Sexual Content: There is mention of a man’s mistress and a coded conversation about adultery. Diana is seen from behind wearing only underwear; she is seen from the side and the side of her breast is briefly visible. A woman says she’s going to masturbate. A woman tells another woman that she loves her.
Profanity: The movie contains five sexual expletives, one minor swear word, and a term of deity.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Background characters are seen smoking. Alcohol is visible at meals.
Page last updated February 24, 2022
Spencer Parents' Guide
How does the Royal Family try to exert control over Diana? How does she fight back?
Do you think it would be possible to craft a public persona that makes it possible to do things you dislike? Do you think that’s a healthy coping strategy or do you think it’s destructive?
Related home video titles:
Diana: The Musical condenses the life of the late princess into a Broadway production. Now streaming on Netflix, it will have some appeal to Diana’s fans but not to broad audiences. Naomi Watts stars as the Princess of Wales in a more traditional biopic, Diana.
Diana didn’t only disturb the Royal Family in her life, but also with her death. The Queen imagines Elizabeth II’s response to Diana’s death and how Prime Minister Tony Blair urged her to respond in a manner that would reflect public grief.
Queen Elizabeth’s own father struggled to fill his expected royal role due to a serious speech impediment. In The King’s Speech, he receives help for his stutter and shoulders his unexpected new responsibilities.
The best source for a deep dive into the Royal Family in the post war era is Netflix’s The Crown. The second season contains some sexual material but the rest of the series offers an in-depth look at the British royals.