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"Spencer": A Film Analysis

Nathan is a film critic and aspiring author with a true passion for the film industry who hopes his writings will help launch his career.


Heads up - this is your one and only warning. This is an analytical article that will contain spoilers for the film Spencer. If you have not seen it yet, I recommend you do so first before reading.

Spencer contained incredible symbolism and metaphors that gave the film a depth that no other film about Diana has. There's several key things I want to discuss so let's begin with the big one.

First, there was an interesting parallel drawn between Diana and Anne Boleyn. If you don't know, Anne Boleyn was married to Henry VIII. Henry was a bit of a promiscuous fellow. He was desperate to have a male heir and would move from one woman to the next until he had one. Anne of course was unaware of how twisted of an individual he was and thought she was in love. When she did not produce a male heir, he began looking to another woman and sentenced Anne to death by beheading. The parallel between Diana and Anne was actually deeper than you might realize. Both were seduced by the glamour of royalty. Both were trapped in loveless marriages. Both felt suffocated by the expectations put upon them by the royal way of life. In a way, things were even worse for Diana because of the paparazzi sneakily taking photos and splashing her face in newspapers all over the world. Diana couldn't hide from anyone no matter where she went and that was just the beginning of her problems.

There's actually a point in the film where a giant portrait of Henry VIII hung in the dining area. The camera angle had it hanging directly over Diana's head, an amazing symbolic reminder that she was always being watched and that royalty was a huge weight laid upon her shoulders.

Second, let's look at the pearls. The pearls are a recurring theme throughout the film. They were gifted to Diana by Charles, who, as it turns out, also gifted the same type of pearls to his mistress Camilla. This of course weighed on Diana, making her feel used and not special. There's a particularly tense scene in which Diana is having dinner with the family, looking side to side to see the Queen and Charles both staring at her. As she feels more and more unsettled, she rips the pearls off her neck, some of them dropping into her soup. She then proceeds to eat her pearls as she shoved spoonful after spoonful in her mouth. Now, of course, this moment was all in her head as the next scene shows the pearls still around her neck. So what did this little vision mean? Well it can be taken several different ways. The phrase "pearls before swine" certainly comes to mind. But I tend to lean towards Occam's Razor - the simplest solution is most likely the right one. So, my thoughts are: one, she ripped off the pearls as a symbol that she felt suffocated by expectations and deception and longed to break free. Two, the eating of the pearls represented devouring her demons just as she felt her demons devouring her.

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Lastly, the big dance sequence. After Diana returns to her then-abandoned home, she considers suicide. She thinks of throwing herself down the stairs in the hopes of breaking her neck. But a vision stops her, a vision of Anne Boleyn urging her to break free of the thing binding her and run. We cut to several scenes of Diana in various forms of dress, dancing and smiling. This is perhaps the easiest to interpret and yet the most important of all of the symbolisms. Diana longed for one thing more than anything else: freedom. She longed for a day when her restraints were no longer restraints, when she could be herself and laugh and dance again without a care or worry in the world. But alas, being in her royal clothes is a symbol of the fact she sadly would never escape her bonds, which then led to scenes of her running for it only for her to realize where she was and snapped out of the vision as she broke the pearls off her neck.

There were of course smaller moments with symbolism, such as her pinching herself with pliers until she bled, hoping she'd wake from the nightmare. Then there was the moment when she fled down the hallway, switching back and forth between her real dress and her dressed as Anne Boleyn, as if she was marching to her death.

There's probably so many more moments that I may have missed, but these were by far the biggest and most prominent. I loved the director's usage of such parallels, helping us understand what she must have felt. The movie alone is heartbreaking enough, but adding all these symbolic moments made it all the more powerful. Spencer truly is an experience of a film, and won't soon be forgotten. And neither will you, Diana. Be at peace, princess.

© 2021 Nathan Jasper

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