What Critics Are Saying About Kristen Stewart as Diana

She 'finds new, close-to-the-bone layers in a character we thought we already knew'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 5, 2021 10:10 AM CDT

Spencer, arriving in theaters this weekend, adds to the many portrayals of Princess Diana, whose story you likely know well. But this portrayal, according to critics, is a standout. Directed by Pablo Larraín (of 2016's Jackie) and starring Kristen Stewart, the film is touted as "a fable from a true tragedy" set at the Queen's Sandringham Estate over a Christmas weekend in the early 1990s, when Diana decides to break from the royal family. Four takes:

  • The director makes the huge estate feel "deeply claustrophobic." But "for all of Larraín's artistry, Spencer would crumble in the hands of the wrong actress, and Stewart gives one of the best performances of her career so far," Mary Sollosi writes at Entertainment Weekly. "She's Diana, but ever-so-slightly off, in such a way that an audience can simultaneously buy into and detach from Larraín's imagined royal nightmare." Notable are the scenes with Diana's children, in which Stewart "emanates such palpable warmth."

  • "Spencer is, in many ways, baloney, abundantly spiced with slander," Anthony Lane writes at the New Yorker. "It is contemptuous of those whom it accuses of treating Diana with contempt." Yet it's also "perversely gripping." "Somehow freed by the liberties that he takes with historical facts," Larraín "tunes in to Diana's high anxiety … as if drunk on her perception of the world." Stewart "responds with vigor," producing "a set of variations on the theme of Diana, ranging from the tender to the loopy, and stressing the extent to which she herself is forever trying out roles."

  • Yes, the star shines. "But once you get past how Stewart captures Diana's look and spirit, there's not much more to see or learn," writes Brian Lowry at CNN. Indeed, "the coming attractions essentially contain everything you need to know about the movie," which "seeks to be an ennobling account of Diana's ordeal, capturing her at a moment of profound unhappiness, where she appears to face a stark choice between breaking down or breaking free."

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  • "What's most interesting about this impeccably elegant film is not its story … but its central performance," argues Moira Macdonald at the Seattle Times. Stewart is "uncannily good at conveying nervous, clenched anxiety. Here she creates a woman who's practically a shadow of herself." Through eating disorders and mental illness, "you watch wishing this story, in the real world, could have had a different ending; and marveling at how Stewart finds new, close-to-the-bone layers in a character we thought we already knew."
(More movie review stories.)

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