Cinema Language’s review published on Letterboxd:
to the people with one liner reviews of the nature of “haha Bri’ish people”, “haha I wish they were real” please consider reaching out for help
This film was not at all what I expected - even having read those exact 9 words time and time again in reviews. Prior to watching I jokingly said “I can’t am wait to give this a 2.5/5” as a bit of self-satirizing of my somewhat strict rating. Come to find out to my shock, I was not far off. I was cautious, considering the people whose taste I trust more did not come out of the theater ecstatic about it, and their reviews encapsulate my issues with it better than I could ever articulate (see reviews below, especially the one by Matt Lynch) It is a pretty fantastic mix of high camp and high art, like combining the likes of The Others with those of the Merchant Ivory films. It features some very strong directing, astonishing production value, very pleasant cinematography - thought not really the mindblowing visuals I’d heard of and the severe lack of contrast, even if a conscious creative choice, did get in my nerves quite a few times - and a decent rhythm to it, even if uneven. The true star of the film is Jonny Greenwood’s PHENOMENAL soundtrack, baroque classical, ambient noise and improvisational jazz masterfully intertwined for a wholly original sound that so elevates this film. And the film has a handful of amazing moments - the dinning scene, the dance scene, the mansion scene are all fantastic.
But besides that, even if in the end I did enjoy it overall and there’s many aspects to love, I found the film to be hollow and unimpressive in its substance. Before I get into that I have to mention also I was not particularly impressed by Kristen Stewart. I understand people who were, but I thought her performance was incredibly mixed. She has some amazing highs in scenes that don’t involve dialogue - maybe why I think the highlight of her performance is the transition sequence between the second and third act and in the heartfelt scene between her and Sally Hawkins at the end - but in scenes that do, she clumsily fumbles around her lines, awkwardly reciting the already awkward dialogue. It’s clear she gave it her all but I’m afraid I thought her efforts were misguided. Whenever she talks, she feels constricted and unnatural. It falls almost into uncanny valley for how she feels something between human and inhuman, like she’s focusing all too much on accents and not so much on just being. Honestly, I thought Sean Harris and Sally Hawkins both outshined her really.
Larrain’s directing and presentation is far too good to be wasted on Steven Knight’s mediocre screenplay, on par with some of the lesser moments of Peaky Blinders. The imagery and symbolism is far too on the nose and outrageously loud (seriously, the Anne Boleyn shit was WAY too much), and it doesn’t assist it the fact that much of it is very soon after explained verbally. I appreciate the mix of genres and making this film practically a horror film, but it also makes for a confused tone that left me with mixed feelings. Furthermore, the dialogue is clunky and way too expository, and feels unpolished. Beyond this I also just find the subjects that the film concerns itself with really unimportant. It’s a personal reference, surely, but I can’t be bothered to care about royalty complaining of the dresses they wear and how they don’t like X servant and they prefer Y servant and how much they don’t like being privileged. Certainly doesn’t help that Diana here is portrayed as unexpectedly rude and curt, especially towards staff of the palace. I mean, not to speculate, buuuuut I’m pretty sure she had bigger concerns than who was going to serve her. I get it, it’s supposed to play into themes of self perception and image and what not but… ugh. There’s just so many better ways to convey this.
And it personally also irks me seeing basically glorified fan fiction made about a person who died, well, not that long ago, where she is severely misinterpreted. I mean, at the very least if you wanted to make a film this fictional about Diana, you could at least make up a new character so that the demeanor of her in this film isn’t directly associated with the real person. And the film really doesn’t critique the Royal family all that much at all even if they were the downfall of Diana; I mean how difficult would it have been? It doesn’t take much to demonize and condemn the British royalty considering they only fucked over a few dozen countries (including mine aye!!!!). And of course I don’t have to talk about how terrible that ending is, loads of people have already said it.
So yeah, didn’t love it, didn’t quite dislike it. If “mix bag” had a film, this would probably it. Filled with soaring highs and dreadful lows. BUT! I am open to rewatching and re-examining this film in the future (as I am with The Power of the Dog), hoping I’ll get something more out of it.