The Electric Cinema in Birmingham’s city centre is an important spot for all film lovers. It is thought to be the oldest working cinema in the United Kingdom, opening in 1909. Despite witnessing most of film history, as well as two World Wars, the Electric sadly had to close its’ doors due to the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020, with the previous owners deciding to sell thereafter. Fortunately for fellow Electric devotees and film lovers, the owner of The Picture House in Uckfield, Kevin Markwick, took over the Electric, which has now been screening films for just over a month. With sold-out screens and excitement building in Birmingham over the rescuing of the cult cinema, Kevin talked about his experiences so far as well as some insight into his own passion for film.
What is your background in cinema owning or in the film industry?
I literally grew up in a cinema, my father started as a ‘rewind boy’ in a cinema in Eastbourne in 1947. He bought The Picture House in 1962 when I was a year in a half old, so I literally grew up in a cinema, it was my childhood. When he passed in 1994, I took over the Picture House and so my kids got to grow up in a cinema as well. I’m marinated in it. We also have a restaurant in The Picture House because my wife is a chef, and that works very well with the cinema. Hopefully, in time we will get something going like that in Birmingham, but it’s early days yet!
What was the process like with polishing up the Electric? Were there any unexpected surprises?
We took over in November, yet it wasn’t as oven-ready as I thought it was going to be. It was a bit damp and nothing worked. Digital projectors don’t like being turned off, you have to keep them on all time, so they didn’t work when we arrived. I needed to get new projectors, it needed a deep clean, I needed to get the boiler going. It’s by no means finished, but I think we can improve it a lot. I want to put in a cinema masking system (masking partially hides the edges of a cinema screen, normally a black rim), cinemas don’t do that now, but personally, I like to do it properly and then the next phase is to put screen curtains in as well. We have a lot of plans to improve it over the next few years.
What sort of films can cinema lovers expect to see at the Electric?
We are going to play Ali and Ava (2021), The Duke (2020), Operation Mincemeat (2020), The Phantom of the Open (2021) and Downton Abbey: A New Year (2022) to name a few. At the same time, there will be the Godfather trilogy, The National Theatre screenings, and possibly the Alien franchise. On 35mm we will be showing The Power of the Dog (2021), Taxi Driver (1976), and Magnolia (1999). Documentaries such as Gerry Anderson: A Life Uncharted (2022) will be showing too. There will be something every week that is not the usual mainstream films. We may possibly revive the ‘double feature’ phenomenon as well, two films for the price of one. There will be something for everybody, as they say!
What are the perks of watching films on 35mm film?
Ooh – that’s an interesting question! As a person who has been showing films since the age of 16, it’s a perfectly normal thing for me to be showing film. People seem to like the fact that they know it’s a physical material passing through a projector and the photochemical process, which is what Nolan talks about, is what gives it the look. There is a romance to it. There is also a technical aspect, a digital projector has to project black, yet black is the absence of light on film, so it is better in that regard. We have done The Apartment (1960), Licorice Pizza (2021) and Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood (2019) all on film so far. We are the only people in the West Midlands that can show screenings on film as of right now. We also found two sets of Century film projectors behind a screen, which were used for the premiere of Braveheart (1995) and were never used since. It was a bit like finding a Rolls-Royce in a garage with 500 miles on the clock. It is perfect kit, so when that is set up in a few weeks it will look even better.
Supporting independent cinemas has always been important, what sets apart the new and improved Electric from Birmingham’s various multi-plex chain cinemas?
We are very independent in every sense of the word; we can do whatever we want. We are directly engaged with the audience: we will be in the foyer, we talk to them, we know them, we will respond to what they like and what they don’t like. Just a more human face really, we are all much closer to the decision making process. We care passionately about movies and we care passionately about the technical side of things, we make sure things are up to standard. If you want something a little more curated, then we are your guys! The media is putting out the ‘this is the final nail in the coffin of cinema’ storyline when just before the pandemic we were actually doing very well. They love the narrative that Netflix is going to win, but I don’t know why.
I loved the bar when I visited last. Has the bar been kept and what is the best food/drink everyone should order when enjoying a film?
We are going to improve the bar as much as we can. We’ve got some cocktails going finally and we’ve got ‘The Electric Ale’ back from Two Towers Brewery. We are also going to put a bar up in the circle foyer too. We have the technology coming where you will be able to order drinks to your seat as well. You’ll be able to say, ‘send me a mojito to G7!’.
Your daughter Katie is going to be in charge of running the show at the Electric. What is the best piece of advice you have taught Katie in preparation?
She grew up in a similar regard to me, so she is marinated in it all. She has also been out in the world, went out, got her degree before she came back to work in the family business. She is as passionate about it as we are. The advice I gave her is just to enjoy the ride, I wouldn’t have suggested she go unless I had absolute confidence in her.
Do you remember your first cinema experience and what you saw?
My first actual memory of sitting from beginning to end would be in 1967 watching The Jungle Book (1967) in the circle with my mum. It had a really boring second feature called The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin (1967) that went on forever. Like most people, their first memory of cinema is some kind of Disney cartoon.
What are your favourite films of all time?
A film needs to be not too new to be your favourite, it needs time to percolate and mature. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) had a big impact on me. I saw it when I was eight years old and I never tire of it. Kids that watched it oftentimes responded better to it than adults. Kids just thought it was spectacular, whereas adults wanted a beginning, middle and end, a narrative you can fully understand, which 2001 doesn’t immediately give you.
Other films I would shout out are The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Don’t Look Now (1973), Performance (1970), Harold and Maude (1971), Five Easy Pieces (1970), Talk to Her (2002), Brazil (1985), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943), A Matter of Life or Death (1946), if… (1968) and You Were Never Really Here (2017).
I am also a big fan of ‘perfect’ films, even if they are not the greatest work of art you have ever seen, you need to admire their perfection. Films like Groundhog Day (1993) utterly achieves what it sets out to achieve. As well as The Commitments (1991), which is 100% satisfying.
The thing about films, I have seen more than a lot of people, growing up in a cinema. However, there are still thousands of them I haven’t seen, so there is still more to discover.
What was your favourite release in 2021 and what are you anticipating in 2022?
In 2021 I liked tick, tick…BOOM! (2021), The Card Counter (2021), The Green Knight (2021), The Reason I Jump (2020) and Palm Springs (2020). My favourite film, however, was Dune (2021), I loved every second of it! I have seen it five times now. As for 2022, I am looking forward to Ali & Ava (2021).
The Electric is a staple in the Birmingham community; all film lovers at UOB and beyond are extremely excited that you got it back up and running. Thank you, Kevin.
Sometimes Netflix films are more about quantity than quality.
Netflix films are like marmite. You either love them or hate them, or in other words, they either are received amazingly, or they do not do well. Munich: The Edge of War was just okay. It was not as capturing as other recent Netflix releases such as The Power of the Dog or Tick Tick… Boom! The film is based on the 2017 novel Munich by Robert Harris and is set in 1938 as two old friends, Hugh Legat (George MacKay) from Britain, and Paul von Hartmann (Jannis Niewöhner) from Germany, trying to stop the two countries from starting a war, what we know as World War II. As information is passed between both of them, their aim is to stop Neville Chamberlain (Jeremy Irons), Prime Minister at the time, signing the Munich Agreement which would allow Hitler’s Germany to take over Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. The casting of George MacKay after his recent success in 1917 with a compelling idea for the plot was hopeful, yet Munich: The Edge of War did not have me on the edge of my seat.
The plot of Munich had so much potential, as a history student, it is interesting how producers will retell historical events for the big screen, whether that is a fabrication of accuracy or sticking to the events religiously. The film needed the fictional characters, Hugh and Paul, to pad out what would be a film of some rather boring meetings. However, it felt like they were not used to their full potential. Friends who had not seen each other for six years, on either side of the war, reconnecting in very dangerous circumstances sounds exciting, yet it was lacking emotion.
The scenes where the two friends had heartfelt conversations were rushed and therefore added little to the storyline. A third friend they shared, Lena (Liv Lisa Fries), was met with a horrendous fate, yet the scene in which they discussed this lasted around three minutes in total. Furthermore, a flashback scene reveals Paul to be an early Hitler supporter, in contrast to his hatred for Hitler in 1938. This character development most definitely made Paul more interesting, nevertheless, this arc also went nowhere, when it could have been a springboard to delve into Germany’s political chaos and citizens constantly switching sides when Hitler became more radical as he gained more power. Every character arc had so much potential to make the storyline interesting, instead, they led nowhere with little conclusion. It was hard to apprehend what the film was trying to focus on: the characters or a depiction of the real historical events. Not to mention the ‘twist’ at the end which was completely unnecessary.
The soundtrack is by Isobel Waller-Bridge, who also created outstanding scores for Fleabag and Emma, yet this composition left much to be desired. The score is mostly the generic contemporary classical style you find in historical films to create tension. There were a few tracks with female vocals which felt completely random at the points it was placed in the film. While the music itself is adequate, it feels ever so slightly off-beat to the points of great tension or the more emotional scenes, almost like the soundtrack is out of sync.
All good war films have some kind of suspense running throughout, making the audience feel unnerved and anxious. Munich, on the other hand, perhaps has fallen to the Netflix curse of quantity, not quality, leaving this film lacking that extra element of suspense it needed. However, the suspense that was lacking in the plotlines and soundtrack was made up by George MacKay and Jannis Niewöhner’s performances in the limited scenes that allowed their acting potential to show. MacKay and Niewöhner’s acting alone created the film’s suspense in their portrayal of their desperation to stop these world leaders from starting another war.
Munich: The Edge of War is lacking a purpose. On the one hand, it shines a positive light on Neville Chamberlain’s politics of appeasement, buying more time for Britain to prepare for the war effort. Yet, this conclusion that the film lands on disregards everything that the two central characters were striving for, leaving the film all a bit pointless. The saving grace is the performances from MacKay and Niewöhner, yet the clunky-ness of the film is hard to overlook.
The depiction of the online world having serious effects on mental health had everyone raving about Kat’s scene, but was it an accurate representation?
TW: Mental Health
In episode two, season two of Euphoria, which aired on 16th January this year, a particular scene caught everyone’s attention. Kat Hernandez (Barbie Ferreira), a seventeen-year-old student who recently gained newfound confidence in embracing her sexuality and realising her style, finds herself this season questioning what part of her confidence is real.
The scene is narrated by Rue (Zendaya), in which this particular line stood out:
“Kat hated herself. But the problem with hating yourself is that you can’t really talk about it. Because at some point recently the whole world joined a self-help cult and won’t shut the f**k up about it.”
The scene then moves to a deep dive into Kat’s emotions. Influencers in bikinis turn up out of nowhere in her bedroom telling Kat how she is amazing, that she should love herself, how it’s society telling her she is unworthy and not her inner thoughts. Reflecting how overwhelming social media is at times, the ‘self-help cult’ may have lost its way in terms of actually empowering people. Kat’s reactions to the influencers highlight how these words of ‘self-love’ may be invalidating her mental health struggles.
Any medium that talks about mental health needs to do it concisely and well thought out, otherwise it can be damaging. On the one hand, this is one of the first mainstream pieces of media I can recall that touches on the toxicity of online promotion of self-love. The current trend of ‘that girl’ and the constant ‘what I eat in a day’ videos that will appear on For You Pages paints an unrealistic version of how people may lead their lives. Someone who doesn’t get up at 6 am to go to the gym, drinks two litres of water a day and makes grilled chicken and broccoli for dinner can interpret that their lifestyle is wrong and counter-productive, which is resembled in Kat’s reaction to the influencers in her bedroom. Any lifestyle is valid, however, the ‘self-help cult’ trends depict a certain image online that is becoming the standard for young people. The way the scene depicts Kat’s inner pressures from consuming this online media is well put-together. The reference to ‘society’ and the ‘patriarchy’ being the ones to blame for Kat’s mental health struggles is a very interesting arc, as it takes away from other aspects of her life that could be contributing to her feeling the way she does.
On the other hand, this scene definitely has some issues. The purpose of this sequence was to make people aware that the perfect lifestyles online can damage someone’s self-esteem. Yet this seems contradictory with the show itself. While Euphoria certainly does not portray the perfect lifestyles, dealing with issues from addiction to family trauma, it is known for the characters lavish outfits and extravagant makeup. Characters such as Nate (Jacob Eldori) and Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) are 18 in the show but played by 24-year-olds. 17-year-old Kat herself is played by 25-year-old Barbie Ferreira, as well as Maddie, who is 17, is portrayed by 31-year-old Alexa Demie. Older people playing younger characters is nothing new, but adding hyper-stylised outfits, perfect hair and makeup just for school is not the most realistic approach. It is debatable whether Euphoria’s makeup and clothing are comparable to ‘that girl’ online routines, due to the shown being known for its creative makeup, an artistic choice not meant for realism. However, an 18-year-old asking themselves why their hair cannot be as perfect as Maddie’s for school could potentially be a fallout from the show.
Director and writer Sam Levinson has also been under scrutiny for representing discourses in which he does not reflect as a person. For example, in his most recent film Malcolm and Marie, where Malcolm (John David Washington) who is a black Hollywood director serves as a mouthpiece of Levinson’s own discretions of race and the film industry. Perhaps ‘woke’ culture and trying to create identifiable content is proving to be problematic. It is obvious that if you have not had certain experiences, some things will slip through the cracks when you are trying to make relatable media.
This being said, there has been a great amount of support for this particular Euphoria scene on social media, saying that it is a great depiction of how online presences can become increasingly overwhelming and suffocating. In an interview with Barbie Ferreira on Euphoria’s YouTube, she explains there was a collaborative effort with her and Levinson on what direction to take Kat’s character and how to explore her relationship with the online world and how this affects her mental health. With this in mind, Euphoria seems to be much more informed than Malcolm and Marie, making Kat’s scene the most talked about topic that week, sparking a relatability on screen we may have not even realised we could relate to.
Mental health is a topic that needs to be approached with carefulness, otherwise messages can be misinterpreted and damaging. Arguably, this scene in Euphoria has opened up the conversation of the ‘self-help cult’ and how breaks from this content are needed. Mental health problems are still very much ignored by mainstream media. Certain depictions of mental health, especially those aimed at audiences like Euphoria’s, have a long way to go. However, it is refreshing to see the depictions on TV as someone who grew up consuming the content of the ‘self-help cult’ and to know it can affect other people’s self-esteem in similar ways.
Annette’s chaos and surrealism will leave you wondering ‘what did I just watch?’
Warning: mild spoilers!
It is hard to categorise Annette into one genre or concept, although it can be classified as the most chaotic film to be released in 2021. Annette follows the story of the idiosyncratic comedian Henry McHenry (Adam Driver) and the soprano phenomenon Ann Defrasnoux (Marion Cotillard) as they fall in love in the public eye, eventually giving birth to a baby girl, Annette, who is represented by a puppet. Most dialogue is delivered as a musical, written and produced by the acclaimed Sparks, an odd choice at first which comes to unwrap itself into a genius medium to tell this story in. The film goes on to reveal a much darker tone, tragic events lead to the unravelling of Henry and leaves us with an image of what happens to a person when envy and greed destroys all you have. Much like Annette being played by a puppet, rather than a human, many other aspects of the film are gone unexplained. Fantastical elements, such as the film opening and closing with musical numbers with the cast out of character and the crew behind the film featured, is akin to epilogues and prologues in literature. The Oscar-shortlisted opening song ‘So May We Start’ includes the lyrics ‘but where’s the stage you wonder? / is it outside or is it within.’ Warning the audience before the main narrative starts, Annette is a tale that criticises the human’s inner ego and how much of life’s artifice damages this.
The star of Annette is inherently the soundtrack by Sparks, the brother duo who are known for their quirky and avant-garde approach to music. Annette originally started as a concept album for their next big project, but with the introduction of director Leos Carax, the story was produced for the big screen. The songs are not cryptic, they tell the story and inner emotions of each character who sings, verging sometimes as dialogue with a background music, contrasting with other numbers which are more fitting for musicals. Some lyrics do not fit with the rhythm of the melodies, as if thoughts are being squished into the perfect timing of the songs. The medium of the musical in this film is used incredibly well. In contrast to a film like Les Misérables (2012), where the intention is to be a fully-fledged musical in the way it is performed, Annette uses the musical genre as though to be ironic. For example, the song ‘We Love Each Other So Much’ feels like a mockery of many great musical ballads. The narrative of Annette does not feel like it was meant to be told in musical form, it is as though one of David Lynch’s films has been forcefully constrained into musical numbers. However, this effect is what makes Sparks’ soundtrack genius. Henry McHenry’s selfishness and despicable tendencies wrapped up in musical format relays the message of fake-ness to the audience. Obvious artificial backdrops and the use of puppetry throughout adds to this further. The meaning of this is open for interpretation, yet a possible critique on fame culture and how ‘not everything is as great as it seems’ springs to mind.
Adam Driver’s performance of Henry McHenry boils down to his ability to play sinister characters very well. It is rare to see Driver in a musical setting, however, his Julliard background would have helped him convey the character’s emotions through the mix of song and heavily choreographed movements. The scenes which portray his stand-up comedy sketches are particularly clever. The tripping over and entanglement in his microphone chord and his movements across the stage bring a comedic element to the start of the film, yet as the story progresses the use of choreographed movements makes the scenes tense and unnerving. ‘The Ape of God,’ Henry’s on-stage persona becomes a recurring motif throughout the film. The imagery of gorillas personifying him, to Henry eating bananas before his performance then casting the skins aside with disdain, builds up Henry thinking he is an apex predator in the performing world. This is then only to be brought down by the better success his wife, Ann, is having, which sparks Henry’s lyrics and movements to change to erratic and desperate. More shots of him lying on the floor thereafter are added to represent the Shakespearean trope of a man fallen from great heights.
Lighting in the film is also particularly important in Annette, to cascade the film in purposeful artifice and surrealism. There are two bright scenes in the film, one is near the beginning, where Ann and Henry are walking through a meadow, at the height of their love story. The other scene is at the end where Annette, now portrayed as a human girl, is finally being seen by her father as a real person, and not a ‘puppet’ that was used for child exploitation, a final glimpse of hope for her, now she has closed her relationship with her father. The rest of the film is more or less carpeted in darker lighting, with hints of colour to portray the characters’ emotions. At the moments where Henry is in his most psychotic state, the scenes are lit with green to emphasise that sense of envy that has overcome him. Cinematographer Caroline Champetier captured the film between a surreal, dream-like fantasy, with obvious artificial lighting and slight movements of the camera as though you are watching it through someone’s eyes, the camera is hardly ever still. This only exemplifies the story’s purpose of portraying fake and fabricated tones.
At first viewing, Annette can be tough to chew and to get your head around, especially at a runtime of two hours and twenty-one minutes. Yet the chaos that Leos Carax delivered is something that sticks in your head for many days after, forcing you to think about the film. The emotion is translated through it well and the concept album by Sparks which accompanies the film is a paring that is rarely seen in the film industry. Therefore, a uniqueness is found in Annette that celebrates aspects of Old Hollywood and French New Wave but done in an outlandish way.
C’mon C’mon is an emotional creation that invokes the feeling of being read a bedtime story
Sometimes the simplest stories can teach us the deepest lessons; this is the conclusion that many will draw from Mike Mills’ new film C’mon C’mon. The plot follows a recently single middle-aged man named Johnny (Joaquin Phoenix) and his eight-year-old nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) as they are thrown into living together. This is due to Johnny’s sister Viv (Gaby Hoffman) leaving to go look after Jesse’s dad Paul (Scoot McNairy) after a serious bipolar episode. The plot’s absence of dramatic turns-of-events or action-packed scenes leaves an opening for the immense study of emotions between all the characters, but especially Johnny and Jesse. Without a major climax or a strong conclusion to the story, it may baffle viewers, yet it seems this is what Mills wanted to achieve. There is not much in telling what the film is ‘about’; it is more what it ‘means’. Every person who watches this film will identify with a different character and their emotions and relate it to their own lives. The relatability of this film is because it is so ordinary. This is what makes C’mon C’mon charming; the meaning of the story is meant to be up to the viewer. The relaxed storytelling of unconditional love, alongside the problems that are faced in the human condition: maturity, life, death, time, are reflected in Johnny and Jesse’s story to create a juxtaposing tone to the film: ‘sweet melancholy’, as Mills describes it himself.
Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny was a perfect choice because of his way of conveying emotions of loss, love and anger that feels so genuine. Coming off from the success of Joker (2019), C’mon C’mon explores the more human side of Phoenix’s ability to portray an excellent character. As for Woody Norman who plays Jesse, his ability to act with such deep emotive scenes makes him a stand-out performer. Child actors are always taken with a pinch of salt, they can lay it on thick with over-acting, yet there was nothing wrong with Norman’s raw and compelling capture of Jesse.
The structure of the film was unique. Switching between the main plot line and interviews by Johnny with kids around America, answering questions about the future, climate change, adulthood and their own lives. While the interviews don’t have a direct connection with the plot, they somehow reflect the emotions and feelings from the last scene. All the interviews were not scripted, so this hybrid of documentary and fictional storytelling has bred a film that reveals truths and anxieties in our current world.
The colour palette for C’mon C’mon is entirely in black and white. This is the most striking aspect of the film as it changes the tone and themes completely, providing a dreamlike perception of a film you may not get with colour. Taking away the colour from the film also removes the audience from reality. As mentioned, this film feels like it is meant to be reflected upon with your own life experiences, just like if you were to study a painting or poetry. The film becomes a drawing, like one from a children’s storybook. This is also acknowledged with Johnny reading storybooks to Jesse, such as Star Child by Claire A. Nivola. Like Johnny’s tearful reaction to the children’s book, similar emotions can be drawn out from the softness of this film. The soundtrack by Bryce and Aaron Dessner paired with the black and white palette invites a sense of warmth and familiarity. With this effect, the audience does not have to think too hard about the story, but just to feel it, just like a child would feel when being read a bedtime story. Certain themes in the interviews, such as ‘the world being on fire’, are contrasted with little moments of love between Johnny and Jesse, like reading together. The message of this may be that there are still some little works of art amongst our horrific ever-changing world.
On a fundamental level, this film is a story of unconditional love between two people who both have ongoing problems in their lives. What makes C’mon C’mon special is the way the story is set up. Through the real interviews and moments of audience reflection, it becomes meaningful to someone in their own way.
Spencer is an emotional portrait of Princess Diana, expertly performed by Kristen Stewart
‘A fable from a true tragedy;’ Pablo Larraín’s Spencer, filmed in lockdown in both Germany and the UK, seems an appropriate story to be captured amid an isolation forced upon the world. The recent success of The Crown has made the anticipation for Spencer long-awaited. The film, purposefully titled Spencer, is an adaptation of Diana’s life and struggles that comes with being a member of the royal family, yet is not a focus on the family as a whole. The story detaches from the other royals; in fact, they hardly get any lines. Spencer is worlds away from a traditional biopic: it is a portrait of a woman’s emotions and devastation, as she tries to battle her personal problems in the face of pressures from the public and the royal ‘family’ institution itself. Spencer is set over three days, Christmas Eve to Boxing Day 1991, at Sandringham, following Diana (Kristen Stewart) as she tries to survive Christmas in a seemingly toxic environment. If the word ‘isolation’ had a film attached to its definition, Spencer would be it.
Kristen Stewart’s portrayal of Diana exposes us to yet another side of her character. Emma Corrin on The Crown serves an image of Diana as the ‘people’s princess,’ with the delicate and sensitive persona that is often shown in various media portrayals and documentaries. Yet Stewart’s portrayal offers up an intense study of a broken woman. What could be described as ‘micro-expressions,’ Stewart’s countless up-close shots allows the viewer to read her expressions of rage or utter desperation. Scenes that have little or no dialogue are transformed into intense story-telling that further invokes the viewers self-reflection. Stewart herself, former Twilight star whose on-screen relationship with Robert Pattinson also existed off-screen, possibly allowed Stewart to relate to Diana’s relationship in the public eye. Constantly hounded by the media and the subject of pre-teen Tumblr toxicity, Stewart’s own story lets her sink into a faultless study of Diana’s disposition.
The film score lends itself well to creating a jittery and uncomfortable atmosphere. Jonny Greenwood’s use of jazz music reflects the emotional turmoil inside Diana’s mind. This, paired with the close-range cinematography establishes a claustrophobic tone. Claustrophobia follows through in the motifs; constant references to military order, being locked inside Sandringham and always being watched. Major Gregory (Timothy Spall) is a vague character, unknown to Diana and the audience if he is watching out for her or is a prison guard-like figure. The ability to transform a large estate like Sandringham into feeling like a small prison cell is what makes the film well-realised.
Spencer’s use of juxtaposing concepts adds to making the film feel uncomfortable. Diana’s glamorous clothes, all lent by Chanel, is a stark contrast with the unglamorous scenes and emotions. Furthermore, references to ghostly apparitions keeps the viewer wondering what is supposed to be reality and what is imagination. The overall tone of being uncomfortable, claustrophobia and the whirlwind of painful emotions suggests that Spencer could come under the psychological-thriller genre. While this is needed, as it shows Diana’s sheer humanity, a welcome break in these heavy themes comes from Maggie (Sally Hawkins), Diana’s royal dresser. Maggie’s character adds a slight sense of hope into the desperate situation, Hawkins was a perfect casting for her.
Diana has always been a fascinating subject, someone at one point who seemed to have it all, a true fairy-tale. Yet the real tale exists in her mental health issues whilst battling a tricky marriage while trying to keep up an appearance with the public and the royal family. While most will probably never find themselves in a princess situation, Diana’s story is one that many will relate to emotionally. There is an issue, however, with forgetting that Diana was a real person. Spencer has been created with most of her family still alive, there is a danger that Diana could be lost back into the fictional tension that surrounds the royal family.
There is a lot of debate with critics as to whether depictions of Diana is a celebration of her or is her tragic story being used for entertainment purposes? While there is a question of respectability, Spencer is a film which achieved a sense of humanity and a portrait of emotions that people could relate to. After years of the media using Diana’s persona in fabricated ways to sell a story, this depiction of Diana appears the most raw and undisguised.
Originally written for Redbrick Newspaper, University of Birmingham. See article here