Kristen Stewart’s Diana biopic Spencer splits the UK critics

The highly-anticipated Diana, Princess of Wales, biopic Spencer has split the critics with some giving it rave reviews and others criticising its writing as “heavy-handed”.

Kristen Stewart plays the princess in the drama directed by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain, which premiered at the Venice film festival on Friday.

Her performance won widespread acclaim and was hailed as “mercurial” and “incandescent” by members of the press, while Larrain’s unorthodox direction also attracted praise.

Italy Venice Film Festival 2021 Spencer Red Carpet
Kristen Stewart at the premiere of Spencer at the Venice film festival (Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

The story is set over a weekend in the early 1990s when Diana joined the royal family for Christmas at the Queen’s Sandringham Estate, with the film framed as a “fable from a true tragedy”.

Robbie Collin, chief film critic for The Daily Telegraph, gave Spencer the maximum five stars and said Stewart will be “instantly and justifiably awards-tipped for this”.

He said she “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.”

Writing for The Guardian, Xan Brooks also rated the film five stars.

He noted that Larrain “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.

“Larrain’s approach to the material is rich and intoxicating and altogether magnificent.

“I won’t call it majestic. That would do this implicitly republican film a disservice.”

Italy Venice Film Festival 2021 Spencer Red Carpet
Director Pablo Larrain (Joel C Ryan/Invision/AP)

The Financial Times rated the film four stars and praised Stewart’s performance.

Writing for the publication, Raphael Abraham said the Hollywood star “adopts the blonde bob, the Kensington clothes and the breathy voice but stops short of full impersonation, and her performance is better for it.

“That she nails the angst and growing mental frailties of Diana is no surprise.”

The Independent’s Geoffrey Macnab, meanwhile, offered the film three stars and described it as a “self-consciously poetic and elegiac affair”.

He praised Stewart for a “memorable, very mercurial performance”, adding that Spencer is “still a considerable upgrade on the ill-fated 2014 biopic in which Naomi Watts played the princess.

“Stewart’s febrile, sensitive performance and Larrain’s trademark lyricism give it an emotional kick that such predecessors lacked.”

The film also got three stars from the i paper’s Christina Newland who criticised Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight’s “heavy-handed” screenplay, which she described as often “painfully on-the-nose”.

“Resplendent as Spencer looks, with Stewart dressed in lemon sailor suits and white tulle ballgowns, it eventually becomes tiresome to watch Diana languish in her misery, her eating disorder, and her unravelling mental state,” Newland wrote.

Spencer won only two stars from The Times’ Kevin Maher who described the feature as an “infuriating mixed bag, one that veers wildly from moments of dreamy intrigue to risible scenes of camp”.

Of Stewart’s performance, he added: “The central turn is Diana played by the Twilight star Kristen Stewart with the kind of studied intensity that suggests relentless consumption of the Panorama interview (the head tilt, the batting eyes) and fruitless hours with a dialect coach that has produced only a strange, strangulated whisper.”

Spencer is coming soon to UK cinemas.