The reviews for Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer” are here straight from the Venice Film Festival, declaring that even if the melodramatic-bordering-on-campy film isn’t for everyone, Kristen Stewart’s “genius” take on Princess Diana just might be.
In his review for The Wrap, Jason Solomons describes “Spencer” as an “intense, giddy spectacle with Shakespearean or indeed Racinian ambitions,” before making it very clear that, ultimately, “it’s Stewart’s film.”
“She gets the doe-eyed, pitying tilt of the head and the little posh girl voice down pretty well, but this is no impression — it’s more an interpretation of a classic role, bringing layers of real human complexity to a figure who, for all the mythology that surrounds her, still looms large in the British and global conscience,” Solomons wrote.
“This Diana isn’t the likable People’s Princess or Queen of Hearts whom the public adored. We get none of that. Instead, she’s prickly, self-absorbed and self-pitying, spoiled and brattish; but while the cold seeps into every room, we do warm to her obvious affection for her children and their love for her.
Xan Brooks also raved about Stewart’s “awkward and mannered performance” as the iconic royal in his review for The Guardian, writing that it is “entirely as it should be when one considers that Diana gave an awkward and mannered performance herself, garnishing her inbred posh hauteur with studied coquettish asides.”
Brooks noted that, while “utterly preposterous,” Larraín’s film deserves props for daring to “examine the royals as if they were specimens under glass.”
Jessica Kiang, whose review for Playlist boldly stated that, “all the right people are going to hate ‘Spencer.’ That’s just how good it is,” cited the meta quality of Stewart’s casting as an added layer of brilliance.
“As possibly the only actor at work right now whose own image is also such a paradoxical mixture of radiance and reticence – there is no one who so strongly projects shyness as Stewart – to have her play the most famous person ever to have so famously hated fame, is already genius-level gamesmanship.”
As did South China Morning Post’s James Mottram.
“Stewart is impressive, melting away at times to play this ‘magnet of madness’, as Diana calls herself. When you see her in front of baying photographers outside church, you can’t help but think the former ‘Twilight’ star understands a little of these pressures,” Mottram wrote.
Jonathan Romney’s critique for Screen Daily called Stewart’s take on Princess Di “not a little uncanny,” adding that she “brings her own magnetism to the role, as well as presumably drawing her own history of contending with obsessive fan and media attention. Stewart at once draws out her character’s troubled fragility and a certain posh-girl loftiness – her line readings perhaps too much on one note, yet carrying a certain self-conscious theatricality that’s perfect for the role of a woman trapped by the constant pressure to perform.”
Although he praised Stewart’s “studied intensity” in the part, The Times’ Kevin Maher didn’t think much of her accent work, describing her vocal affect as “ a strange, strangulated whisper.” He expressed similarly conflicting feelings on the film as a whole.
“The Princess Diana story is given an art house makeover in this infuriating mixed bag, one that veers wildly from moments of dreamy intrigue to risible scenes of camp,” he wrote.
The Telegraph’s Robbie Collin commended the actress’s dexterity in keeping up with said mixed bag.
“The 31-year-old Stewart – who will be instantly and justifiably awards-tipped for this – navigates this perilous terrain with total mastery, getting the voice and mannerisms just right but vamping everything up just a notch, in order to better lean into the film’s melodramatic, paranoiac and absurdist swerves.”
Ben Croll’s review for IndieWire suggests that Stewart is not only “terrific” but could’ve been even more terrific had the script allowed her to match its campy heights.
“Stewart does terrific work as this royal-turned-scream-queen, but one does get the sense that she could be even better were “Spencer” to allow the character to go as wild as everything else does around her,” he wrote.
That said, Croll wrote that the movie’s unconventionality is what makes it work–and what places it in the company of legendary psychothrillers. Basically, audiences looking for a more straightforward biopic should stick with something like Netflix’s “The Crown.”
“‘Spencer’ is neither a film about specifics nor any of conventional biopic; it is instead a sort of haunted house chamber piece that doesn’t try to locate the real woman behind the legend — as the title might suggest — as it does to reimagine her within a wholly different pop lexicon. … here he jumps all the way in, staging ‘Spencer’ as a psychodrama swimming the same tides as ‘Repulsion,’ ‘Rosemary’s Baby,’ or ‘Black Swan.”’
“Spencer” hits theaters Nov. 5.