Raphael Georg Klopper’s review published on Letterboxd:
Amidst so many different takes that they could’ve easily follow to tackle another production revolved around the figure of the iconic Diana, Princess of Wales, and her tragic history, still constantly aroused as a topic of analysis and comments, making a conventional by the numbers drama would be enough to arouse some discussions and even run for award seasons, and whatever importance that may have. But I’m glad that a film like Pablo Larraín’s Spencer do exist, it avoids conventions (as much as it can) at the same rate that it skips from any period-place facts out of the main’s figure life that would’ve been a full plate to create that said soapy melodrama.
It could’ve easily been yet another “last living days” bio-drama, or just try to write off a personality portrayal out of one specific historically-based period of her life, and makes the bold admirable choice of not having to build her character around some specific historical factor, and just tells its own story of the person Diana was, less interested in the figure, but more in the very human that she was. Focusing on her famous recognizable trades that made her the icon she is: the loving mother, the repressed individual, without any freedom of her very basic need or right of human intimacy.
That leads to become the perfect stage to create it’s promised “fable from a true tragedy”, in following and depicting the meanderings of a lost trapped soul. Surrounded by ancestral ghosts, whom like her, suffered under the control of the monarch patriarchy, being put to live under a restrict regime of behaviors and manners, demands and expectations.
Captured in just three brief days of the titular character, spending the Christmas holiday in a luxurious country house that works more like a boot-camp for military personal, where guards and servants move and act in mechanical mode, and where Diana is put to follow a guideline of schedules and tasks as a perfect inmate. Where her very pearl necklace becomes a suffocating leash, and where her visions and mental breakdowns basically becomes her only place to outburst her needs, while stoic cold-blooded monarchists watching her every step.
The first half in its dragging meditative haunted-house feel easily form the best part of the film, as we are put to live the same reality as Diana in immersive detail inside this palace that takes the shape of a multi dimensional doll house, with the segmental texture of a museum, and the unbalanced feeling looms throughout the film with total ease, where the fog surrounds the mansion like a not at all subtle ghosted house, with some clear The Shining vibes in its long-stretched corridors and lurking presence of threats laying in the invisible. Especially when aided by Jonny Greenwood’s score is astonishing as usual, melancholic sonata of trapping dread and loneliness, and revealing the unsettling state of mind that torments every corner where Diana passes by.
While the later half tries to establishes a sense of moral victory to her character, a somewhat historical justice through fiction perceiving to honor her in every way while trying to illustrate the self-independence side of Diana and her strong moral personality that would never bow to the oppression laded upon her. And after an hour and a half of her being subjected to a physical and psychological imprisonment, trying to lift everything that makes her up as a person and the same being denied in an agonizing way; by the end she salvages the only thing that mattered to her, her love, her children, her love for life, winning over her trauma and winning over her incarcerated reality in a last symbolic hurrah of her self-preservation!
Though it does all that overlapping in empty zany images, trying to emote some Terrence Mallick inspirations, and deliver a symbolically triumphant ending to the character over her oppressors that failed in imprisoning her in their ways, that just sounds kind of sappy. And as much as Kristen Stewart is great at showing the sad-repressed Diana - and having pretty strong moments to illustrate that, she doesn’t much convince in the self independent radiant person side that she exhaled in real life.
Although some of that can be argued that’s the point in Steven Knight’s script, that does bring some good narrative content in well written passages, but falling a little bit over the didactic and formulaic by the end, it gives you the drama and the symbolisms you as an audience always imagined to be revolved around Diana – the main one being that the Diana we are seeing here is not the same Diana we see being chased by paparazzi and media scandals, but her real self.
And as everyone around the royal family has the ability to sustain this double personality farce, one for the people and leave her true under strict rulebook, Diana breaks because she is too human for that. By the end, she recovers her sense of identity by using her Spencer surname again – her essence, her past, her true self! But barely ever takes anywhere with it outside its mere message-symbolic stance, while the dramatic core is handled with some constant crying from Stewart and pretty poetic pictures with barely a cohesion to sustain it all.
Diana's encounters and visions with the ghost of Anne Boleyn do add a lot to the shivering creepy factor present in the film as we get trapped in her state of mind, and it perfectly helps to create an environment of immersive instability and discomfort. But when the film appeals to flashbacks from her childhood, or the scarecrow used as almost her symbol of oppression, innocence and all that shaped her identity and her growth, is now hung and forgotten like a ragamuffin; and those shots that reinforce how much she felt oppressed and suffocated in that castle, it goes far beyond anything remotely close to subtlety.
The movie at least works to shed some light on how petrifyingly great actors Timothy Spall and Sean Harris are, barely having to say little to emote so much in their presence, one is a quiet controller who just wants to do his job well as basically the warden of Diana's prison with his soft-spoken chivalry and a hint of despise, and Harris is the quiet methodical servant who's human enough to give the only sense of comfort that Diana could hope for in this situation: some straight honesty.
While Jack Farthing does a great job at impersonating the stoic famous persona of prince Charles, but stoic and cold is all that he is basically. This is one sided narrative so you know what to expect out of nuanced characters: barely any outside Diana (and maybe the cook from Harris). The problem of when you really try to evoke such a human aura that evokes almost a sanctification and innocence of its depicted protagonist, it loses any flair of interest or nuance that she and other characters could actually carry and create a much more lasting impression.
Spencer works on its own terms as a film, but easily falls forgettable. It may come from a well-meaning place of trying to evoke so hard the human level that irradiated from the titular character, but it gets lost in meandering intents that never seem to find a solid footing. Is a film filled with special undertones that sustain a peculiar interesting experience to sit-through, especially in how different it takes the biopic factor and turn it into a dark little fable of psychological/dramatic horror. But to sustain the masterpiece status that many have being declared it as….I don’t think so.