In a bold and assuredly controversial bit of casting, Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana in the forthcoming drama Spencer. Directed by Pablo Larraín (Jackie), the movie takes an intimate look at a critical three-day period in Diana's life when she realised her marriage to Princes Charles (Jack Farthing) was disintegrating.
The movie recently played at the 78th Venice Film Festival where critics were quick to laud Stewart's performance as Diana. Set almost entirely within the confines of Sandringham Palace at Christmas-time, the movie forgoes the soapy antics of The Crown in favour of something more altogether ghostly, oblique and atmospheric. Reviewers say that Larraín's previous movie Jackie is very much the touchstone: the elliptical, often disturbing story of a woman in a position of power who is compelled to juggle a devastating personal crisis whilst remaining in the public eye.
Only this time, it's not the former First Lady Jackie Kennedy who falls under the director's gaze, but the ill-fated and lamented 'People's Princess'. Although the casting of former Twilight actor Stewart may seem unlikely, critics say her mannered, self-conscious performance melds effectively with the narrative.
"Kristen Stewart doesn’t just do an impersonation (though on the level of impersonation she’s superb)," writes Owen Gleiberman for Variety. "She transforms; she changes her aspect, her rhythm, her karma. Watching her play Diana, we see an echo, perhaps, of Stewart’s own ambivalent relationship to stardom — the way that she’ll stand on an awards podium, chewing her lip, reveling in the attention even as she’s slightly uncomfortable with it (and even as she makes that distrust of the limelight a key element of her stardom)."
Xan Brooks, writing for The Guardian, is similarly enthusiastic: "Working off a sharp script by Steven Knight, Chilean director Pablo Larraín spins the headlines and scandals into a full-blown Gothic nightmare, an opulent ice palace of a movie with shades of Rebecca at the edges and a pleasing bat-squeak of absurdity in its portrayal of the royals. Larraín’s approach to the material is rich and intoxicating and altogether magnificent."
Raves Pete Hammond in his Deadline review: "I can’t say enough about Stewart’s performance, steering from an impression of an impossibly well-chronicled figure to beautifully achieving the essence of who she was. It is a bracing, bitter, moving, and altogether stunning turn, taking Diana down roads we have not seen played out quite like in this mesmerizing portrayal."
The Hollywood Reporter's David Rooney is similarly complimentary about Stewart's portrayal: "It rests on Stewart’s shoulders and she commits to the film’s slightly bonkers excesses as much as to its moments of delicate illumination. The hair and makeup team has done a remarkable job at altering her appearance to fit the subject, even if this is a film in which the essence of the characters is given more weight than the actors’ resemblance to them. But Stewart’s finely detailed work on the accent and mannerisms is impeccable. The camera adores her, and she has seldom been more magnetic, or more heartbreakingly fragile."
Nevertheless, the film's eccentric aesthetic choices haven't gone over well with everybody. "Between Jonny Greenwood's squalling jazz soundtrack, the hallucinations, and the blush-making sexual confessions, Spencer is a folly that wobbles between the bold and the bad, the disturbingly gothic and the just plain silly," writes Nicholas Barber for the BBC. "In some scenes, it's heart-rending in its depiction of Diana's self-harm and bulimia. In others, it's almost as risible as the Diana biopic from 2013, and that's saying something. I didn't know any more about Diana afterwards than I did beforehand, but I can't say I didn't enjoy it."
Will Kristen Stewart deliver the definitive portrayal of Princess Diana? Spencer is yet to secure a UK release date, so let us know your thoughts @Cineworld.