Spencer (12A), 111 mins
Verdict: A screech in republicanism
Eternals (12A, 157 mins)
Verdict: It seems to last forever
The Crown, the captivating Netflix series, has set a high standard for screen dramatisations and adaptations of the royal soap opera. Spencer is regrettably not able to meet it.
Spencer was set on the Sandringham estate over three days during Christmas 1991. The marriage between Charles and Diana was broken beyond repair.
A caption at the beginning of the film, declaring it to have been a fable taken ‘from true tragedy’, does not mean that what follows is mainly whimsy.
It proves to be so, with gold knobs.
Kristen Stewart is a good singer and Sloaney accent aficionado.
Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana, a dysfunctional and gibbering wreck (but a good one), while Jack Farthing plays a Prince Charles cold and callous enough to give your average Nazi commandant a run.
The other adult royals are only slightly less favorable.
Spencer is set to the plaintive strings of Radiohead’s JonnyGreenwood. It is a cinematic screech for republicanism.
Pablo Larrain’s form has been influenced by tragic female icons. He made Jackie, a 2016 picture about the world’s most famous widow, in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination.
Like Jackie, Spencer is a romantic fairytale turned on its head: The fragrant beauty who loses the prince.
Here, though, the subject is not a world-famous widow but a world-famous bulimic — and we are not allowed to forget it.
One of the most hilarious moments is during Christmas Eve dinner when Diana, in despair, tears off a pearl necklace that was identical to one Charles gave Camilla. The huge pearls are then placed in her soup. She immediately starts to eat them, before eventually throwing them up.
Larain and screenwriter Steven Knight use food as a symbol for Diana’s unhappiness, but also for the absurd imperiousness of the family.
In the vast Sandringham kitchens, the head chef (Sean Harris) reminds the staff to abide by a sign reading ‘Keep Noise To A Minimum — They Can Hear You’.
These royals are indeed like the alien-invasion monsters in A Quiet Place. However, it is Diana who is shown as the alien. This contrasts with the stuffy formality embodied mostly by the Queen Mother’s hide bound equerry Major Gregory. (Timothy Spall).
The major is one of those patrician Scots who are well-dressed and have sex all day. He has been sent from Clarence House by Diana to watch out for her. Her outsider status is immediately reinforced when she starts driving herself up to Norfolk.
The unsubtle message is that this is a woman who has lost her soulmate in more than one way. Maggie Hawkins (sister to her favorite dresser) is her true soulmate, although even that relationship proves to be more complex than it seems.
The film is at its most sweet when Diana’s motherhood embrace is shown. Stewart does a great impression of the character, with his natural voice and Sloaney accent.
At first all you see are the differences, but gradually all you see is Diana, even though Stewart is considerably shorter than the princess was.
Even the matter of height alone can make seasoned royal-watchers scream in dismay.
The Queen (Stella Gonet), looks like she’s been taking steroids. She is nearly as tall as the Duke of Edinburgh (Richard Sammel), who incidentally seems to spend most of the movie as an elective mute, another spectacular swerve from reality.
The most tragic irony of this film and its greatest flaw is that it tries so hard to make us feel sorry about Diana. It leaves us feeling more then a little annoyed at the others, especially Charles.
It did me. Despite all his mistakes, Charles is not Henry VIII. Larrain makes the parallels between Charles and Henry’s ill-fated queen Anne Boleyn. We are led to believe that Diana felt a strong spiritual kinship.
Kinship also looms large in Eternals, the latest Marvel blockbuster, during which only the gift of eternal life will stop you looking at your watch, willing the final credits to hove in to sight.
Eternals stars Don Lee as Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salmahayek and Richard Madden as a diverse grouping of superheroes
The Celestials created the Eternals, a group of superheroes, to protect humanity against the Deviants.
Director Chloe Zhao gets too carried away, her Oscar-winning film Nomadland being her last. She shows us that she can create outrageous fantasy and authenticity, but not at the cost of her liberal credentials.
The Eternals, played by Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, and others, are diversity-friendly superheroes that vary in sexuality and ethnicity.
Even a split personality and deaf-mute are among their ranks, to remind us of the fact that mental and physical disabilities can be compatible with living for ever and protecting the planet.
The CGI-augmented action takes you on a dizzying trip through history and geography from ancient Mesopotamia up to modern-day Camden Town. This story fuses with Greek mythology and legend in an exciting and efficient way.
But if harmony is what you seek (and heart )…),
My favorite release of the week is by far the most glitzy. It’s a documentary called Men Who Sing (★★★★✩, 78 mins, 12A) and it’s a real charmer, made with manifest devotion by Dylan Williams, who also made a lovely film 11 years ago called Men Who Swim.
Men Who Sing tells the story of friendships between old men who, apart from their weekly rehearsal, come together all too often to perform at the funerals of the latest of them to pass away
It was about the camaraderie among members of Sweden’s all-male synchronised swim team, of which Williams was part. This is also deeply personal. It was inspired by Ed, his father in North Wales who has been singing with the same choir of male voices for 65 years.It is also about camaraderie — friendships between old men who, aside from their weekly rehearsal, come together all too often to perform at the funerals of the latest of them to pass away.
And it is also about camaraderie — friendships between old men who, apart from their weekly rehearsal, come together all too often to perform at the funerals of the latest of them to pass away.
There is a melancholic quality to the whole thing. But it is also very life-affirming. It is full of warmth and humor, and the choir competes again for their first time in 15 year. It is impossible to look at this show with dry eyes.
The Card Counter (★★★✩✩, 15, 111 mins) is a hard watch for very different reasons, as it gradually becomes clear why a brilliant professional gambler (Oscar Isaac) suffers from a form of post-traumatic stress. Paul Schrader, the writer-director, is an illustrious addition to his long list of credits (he wrote Taxi Driver as well as Raging Bull for Martin Scorsese).
I could not shake the feeling that these two narratives would have been better served by separate films. But Isaac is brilliant and gets top-notch support through Tye Sheridan and Tiffany Haddish.
Red Notice (★★★✩✩, 12A, 115 mins) is a tongue-in-cheek art-heist caper starring Ryan Reynolds, Dwayne Johnson and Gal Gadot. Reynolds does his standard jaunty turn as a wisecracking rascal, and there’s nothing particularly original about any of it — apart perhaps from an unexpected glimpse of The Great British Bake Off. Easy to digest, but doughy.
- IN CINEMAS, Red Notice also available on Netflix starting November 12.