‘The Rescue’ and ‘Spencer’ — two compelling films for different reasons

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“The Rescue” and “Spencer” will play at the M.V. Film Center this weekend, after opening last month at the end of the drive-in season. “The Rescue” is a documentary about the cave escape of a Thai soccer team that is more gripping than any fictional thriller. In contrast, “Spencer” is a fictional version of Princess Diana’s tragic life from the time of her separation from Prince Charles, heir to the English throne.

‘The Rescue’

The Thai event happened in 2018, when 12 boys from the Wild Boars soccer team, teenage and younger, and their assistant coach were trapped in Tham Luang Nang Non cave. At nearly 10.5 kilometers, it is the fourth longest cave in Thailand. With the nation’s monsoon season starting early, the cave was rapidly flooding with water.

The desperate, nearly impossible rescue mission was headed by cartographer Vern Unsworth, de facto leader Rick Stanton, and Jason Mallinson, all of whom were middle-age volunteers. They were joined by the Thai Army and Navy SEALs, and one of the latter died in the effort. Although advised against it, these three and additional volunteer cave explorers chose to sedate the boys so they wouldn’t panic underwater. The expert cave explorers had one chance to rescue the boys, bringing them out one by one.

Directed by Oscar winners Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chan, the National Geographic film recounts the rescue efforts as day by a dramatic 18 days passed, and the rest of the world watched. The boys had no food until the rescuers arrived, but remained calm despite minor injuries.

The motive behind the cave explorers was, as Stanton explains, “When I see a dark place, I wonder what’s there. This is the strange world I enjoy.” It doesn’t matter that the viewer knows the outcome, because how it was accomplished is spellbinding enough.

‘Spencer’

“Spencer,” the title of this film, is appropriately Princess Diana’s original last name, and the one that in many ways remained her true identity. The film was not available for review by press time, but the following is a description of “Spencer” based on available commentary. The year is 1991, 10 years after her marriage at age 20 to Prince Charles (Jack Farthing), age 32. The viewer meets Diana, played by Kristen Stewart, en route to the Sandringham royal estate to spend the Christmas holidays with the royal family. But first the viewer, learning she’s late, sees the food for the event arrive as if in a military cortege. In fact, she’s gotten lost, and stops at a petrol station to ask for directions, even though it’s just a few miles from her childhood home. When she does arrive, it is clear she has reached the point of no return in her troubled marriage to Prince Charles.

Directed by Pablo Laraín, the film was nominated for the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion, and portrays Charles as the adulterous husband, in love with another woman, Camilla Parker Bowles (Emma Darwall-Smith), since before his marriage to Diana. Diana finds a copy of a biography of Anne Boleyn, beheaded by Henry VIII, in her room and feels a rapport with her. She decides it is time to separate from Charles.

At an earlier dinner, she has ripped off the pearl necklace she was wearing — Charles had given Camilla the same one — and chews on one of the pearls. She identifies with the pheasants Charles hunts, and tries to protect her sons from hunting like their father. “Spencer” portrays Diana as a woman trapped in the confines of a royal family that does not recognize or appreciate her, and from whom she tries to break free.

Information and tickets to “The Rescue” and “Spencer” are available at mvfilmsociety.com.