Emma Corrin is on the cusp of winning Best Actress at the Emmy Awards for playing Princess Diana on “The Crown” and if the early festival reviews of Kristen Stewart’s performance in “Spencer” are any indication, the Academy Awards may very well recognize the tragic member of the royal family as well.
Stewart stars in Pablo Larrain’s new film, which NEON will debut in theaters on November 5, and “is now the Best Actress frontrunner,” The Daily Beast senior entertainment editor Marlow Stern wrote on Twitter. In his review of the film, he added, “Few actors convey vulnerability quite like Stewart, whose every inch trembles with each judgmental glance or ugly jibe. Up until now, and despite a bevy of deserving performances — from ‘Into the Wild’ and ‘Adventureland’ to her collaborations with Olivier Assayas — Oscar has cruelly shunned Stewart. Perhaps we can chalk it up to the reputation-sullying ‘Twilight’ Saga, whose poor writing and direction, at times, left her rudderless. But it won’t any longer.”
“Spencer” is an unconventional biopic about Princess Diana (the film’s title uses her maiden name) that takes place across three days in the early 1990s before her death. Larrain has experience making this kind of film, having directed Natalie Portman to a Best Actress nomination for 2016’s “Jackie.” That feature, which ran through the festival gauntlet, was similarly askew when compared to more traditional biographical movies.
Writing for the New York Times, Kyle Buchanan noted Stewart’s performance in “Spencer” is not as “campy” as Portman got in “Jackie.”
“Stewart always proves to be a grounding presence, no matter how lost Diana gets,” he added. “The more the movie goes on, the more her casting even seems like a meta stroke of genius: Stewart is one of the few people on the planet who has known paparazzi scrutiny that is even somewhat comparable to the fusillade of flashbulbs that hounded Diana until her death. If Diana doesn’t always want to come out of her room, you can imagine that Stewart has felt those feelings, too: Whether she plays the game or not, there’s no real way to win.”
Not everyone was as enthused with the film. For TIME, critic Stephanie Zacharek criticized Larrain for his take on Princess Diana as a character and found the film’s message a bit muddled — although through no fault of Stewart’s performance.
“Stewart gives her all, as she always does. But she plays Diana as a mannered doe — all wrong, given that does are the most unmannered creatures on Earth. Her performance is clearly stylized, but it’s also packed with calculation and guile. Larraín turns this Diana into exactly the thing the royal family accused the real-life Diana of being, a willful and pouty constant complainer,” Zacharek wrote. “Stewart puts poignant quotation marks around every line — how could a director look at this nonsense in a monitor and think, Brava! (The intuitive mind-meld Stewart seems to have with French director Olivier Assayas is not in play here.)”
But in the end, the consensus from early reviews is that Stewart’s work is exceptional and transformational, qualities that often precede an eventual Oscar nomination. If Stewart were to receive one next year, it would be her first. (Stewart currently ranks third among Gold Derby users.)
“Kristen Stewart doesn’t just do an impersonation (though on the level of impersonation she’s superb). She transforms; she changes her aspect, her rhythm, her karma,” Owen Gleiberman wrote for Variety. “Watching her play Diana, we see an echo, perhaps, of Stewart’s own ambivalent relationship to stardom — the way that she’ll stand on an awards podium, chewing her lip, reveling in the attention even as she’s slightly uncomfortable with it (and even as she makes that distrust of the limelight a key element of her stardom). Mostly, though, what we see in Stewart’s Diana is a woman of homegrown elegance, with a luminosity that pours out of her, except that part of her is now driven to crush that radiance, because her life has become a wreck.”
“Spencer” is out November 5.
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