Connections between Spencer and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Shot from the film spencer in a hallway

Film: Spencer (2021) | Director: Pablo Lorrain | Starring: Kristen Stewart, Timothy Spall, Sally Hawkins.

I didn’t expect Spencer to be such like a psychological horror. Of course, Diana’s story does have a horrifying end. But this isn’t that story. Spencer is the story of Diana’s visit to Sandringham to spend Christmas with the Royal’s, her new family. How true to life it is, I don’t know but seemingly things could have quite as easily taken a horrifying route. This is a story of a narrow escape.

There are few things that induce fear more than aristocratic solemnity. This way of secrecy, murmurs in corridors, and paranoia under the eyes of those in power is something that Stanley Kubrick certainly had an interest in. Most obviously these themes can be seen in Eyes Wide Shut, but with its horror-genre inspired tropes I found myself drawing more comparisons with The Shining.

Kristen Stewart as Diana looking pensive in an outside wide angle shot

There are also those lovely embellished and distinctly Kubrickian sets, decorated with lavish pomposity resembling Barry Lyndon. Many great directors nowadays will focus extra attention to ensuring 100% accurate detail, especially in period films, the need for which was possibly initiated by Kubrick’s extraordinary obsessiveness. If this is merely stylistic then they’re a nice homage, but in certain camera movements I can’t help but think of that haunting, quiet, loneliness from The Shining. That iconic slow sweeping Steadicam, unsettling floor patterns swallowing the scenery, I’m sure there’s something to be unpacked about hallucinating in bathrooms. And of course, there’s the psychological impact of being cooped up in big old freezing mansion. Then there’s Timothy Spall’s character ever present and always listening who for me could just as easily be that ghostly bar tender, an ear to Jack Torrance’s hotel wanderings, or Diana’s midnight escapades.

Kristen Stewart dancing as Diana in the film Spencer

The food, incidentally, is such a powerful motif. That strange detail of the Queen’s request to weigh her guests before and after Christmas (To be sure she has kept them well fed I presume?) adds so much weight to the already heavily trapped and quietly judged psyche of Diana.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on acting. But for me the mark of a good performance is when I’m so lost in the role, I forget for a while who is playing it. In this film, Kristen Stewart is Diana. Maybe this theory falls apart with the addition of make-up and costume (which here is very well executed) but this is my mark and in this film I think Stewart has probably delivered her greatest performance to date.

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