Ryan Liddiard’s review published on Letterboxd:
My personal attitudes towards the circus that is the Royal Family aside, I found Pablo Larrain’s Spencer to be an incredibly edgy look into the warped world of England’s most precious dynasty.
I’d imagine those who worship at the altar of the House of Windsor will grind their crooked teeth watching Spencer—after all, the key figures are not painted in the kindest light. I, on the other hand, found it refreshing to watch a film that didn’t grovel to them. Larrain pulls no punches illustrating the constrictive, corruptive, and corrosive effects that monarchy can have on those involved. Case in point: the tragic “fable” of the Spencer family’s prodigal daughter, Princess Diana.
Of course, we all know how Diana’s poignant story ends. Larrain instead chooses to focus on a critical three-day period over Christmas, where all the irksome trappings of royal life are on full display, and where Diana’s proverbial last straw seems to break. It truly is the perfect setting.
And to match this perfect setting we get the perfect performance. Kristen Stewart is exquisite as Diana. It's not an impersonation, but rather a transformation. She is Diana. She commits on all fronts, whether it be languishing under the crushing oppression of the crown, or flourishing in the playful company of her two sons (my favourite scenes in the movie). From what I’ve seen so far this year from other contenders, she has to be the frontrunner for the Oscar.
Also fantastic in Spencer are Jonny Greenwood’s score and Claire Mathon’s cinematography. I think if anyone gives Hans Zimmer a run this year it will be Greenwood. It’s as though he took the idea of “having fun” that so many of the characters allude to in the film and underlaid it with the stark realities of sovereignty—there’s something mischievous about it, and it adds another dimension to the film entirely. And the cinematography, also, is one the best I’ve seen this year. The drab and dull English countryside finds life under Mathon’s lens—I found it reminiscent of Beatrix Potter’s illustrations. The production design and costumes are also very, very good.
All that said, I think what I liked most about Spencer is just the cohesiveness of the symbols, themes, and metaphors. Sure, there is great irony in relying so heavily on symbolism when reflecting on a family that has basically been reduced to symbols themselves. But irony aside, the symbols, themes, and metaphors are really thought provoking. Just be beautiful; false modesty; the pompous excess of food and clothing; subservience; Anne Boleyn; Diana’s empathy for the pheasants; the pearls; the hope for a miracle; constantly being watched—there is a lot here, and sometimes it’s overbearing, but in aggregate I think the effect is well worth it, and it takes the film from being a standard biopic to something more transcendant.
It sits at a 4 for me, but there's definitely room to budge on a second viewing. Spencer is another pleasant surprise in a year that's been full of them.