Jacob Juenger’s review published on Letterboxd:
The British Royal Family is not exactly my favorite subject. Much like any other rich, overexposed people out there, I really don't get why there is such a fascination around them. With only a handful of exceptions, I usually go out of my way to avoid movies and television shows that use them, from any era, as subjects.
Spencer was one of the exceptions. Maybe it's the film snob in me talking, but the weird curiosity of seeing if Kristen Stewart could credibly pull off Princess Diana overrode any and all contempt that I have for that damn family and the media coverage perpetually surrounding them. I'm glad I did, because not only do I think she pulled it off, but it could wind up being one of the better movies I've seen that came out this year.
It opens with the title card, "A fable from a true tragedy". In other words, don't come in here looking to take this movie as gospel. I admit that I don't know much about the subject, but even I know enough to know that she likely didn't have any hallucinations about Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII who was beheaded on trumped up charges. Yet this is important as it speaks to the character's mental health. She's portrayed as a bird in a gilded cage, being watched by someone or another at all times under the very ironic guise of privacy, to the extent that her curtains get wired shut for her to change clothes. Pheasants are used in this movie as something of a metaphor for this in a manner that seems a little too on-the-nose.
Indeed, the movie is riddled with metaphors like that. The first shots of the movie are of the frosty ground, matching the reception that Diana would be getting from the rest of the family when she arrives late, after Queen Elizabeth II had already arrived. When we indeed first see Diana, she gets lost on the way there, having to stop at a restaurant for directions with everyone there stunned to see her; this itself would be juxtaposed near the end of the movie. Indeed, the very title of the movie is itself a metaphor, a metaphor for just how disconnected the Princess of Wales was from the rest of the family. A similar one is used during the family's Christmas photo shoot, with Prince Harry standing separate from everyone else, with only his mother coming in to bridge the gap.
The movie depicts the Christmas gathering of the family in 1991, around the time that the marriage between Diana and Prince Charles is starting to collapse. The infidelity that ended the marriage isn't overtly depicted, largely because it isn't entirely interested in it. It's more interested in the nearly perfect front that the family puts up through the point of view of someone who has no use for it, someone trying to control her own circumstances and those of her sons instead of having others make their decisions.
Director Pablo Larrain crafts a suspenseful character study about a beloved woman in a way that, even though you may know the subject's fate, you find yourself drawn to her to the point of caring what happens anyway. It helps that he's aided and abetted by a solid script by Steven Knight and a well-rounded score by Jonny Greenwood. But such character studies rise and fall with the actor in the role, and Kristen Stewart rises to the occasion, much to my surprise.
Yes, there are things that don't gel, like in every such movie. But such little details don't detract from the movie as a whole. It's a solid character study involving one of the more iconic characters of the last part of the 20th century.