Nicole Kidman stars in Grace of Monaco

Nicole Kidman stars in Grace of Monaco

Grace of Monaco might have been the opening gala film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and a fitting one, as Grace and Prince Rainier met at Cannes, but it was panned by the critics.  While Director Olivier Dahan’s film is open to much deserved criticism, it is worth seeing for some surprising historic details; its luxurious sets and Mediterranean scenery, and Nicole Kidman, modelling some of the most beautiful period fashions we are likely to see this year.

Rare in the annals of Hollywood, 46-year-old Nicole Kidman is playing both a 26- and a 32-year-old Grace Kelly, an astonishing feat that Ms Kidman pulls off with the help of a stunning 1950s and 1960s wardrobe that is worth the price of admission.

The film opens on Grace Kelly’s last day on a film set, with some newsreel footage reminding us that in 1956, the fairy tale wedding of the century saw the Oscar winning American actress married to the older Prince Rainier III (Tim Roth), bearer of the medieval Grimaldi title.

Monaco’s population and landmass might be small, but the convention centre, casino, the exclusive homes, annual Grand Prix and the no tax policy succeeded in luring wealthy companies, businessmen and celebrities to the cliff top principality surrounding a yacht-filled bay in the Mediterranean.

The biggest celebrity, however, was Grace Kelly, who was giving up Hollywood to become a real life princess.

To his credit, Dahan foregoes the wedding, family life, the controversial car crash, and even, somewhat regrettably, extended scenes with Hitchcock (a wonderful cameo from Roger Ashton Griffiths). Instead, he involves Grace in a partially true political and palace intrigue, where she is able to prove her worth and her commitment to the sceptical Monegasques.  Dahan sets the main action in 1962 when, in a surreal contrast, Hitchcock is enticing Grace back to Hollywood with the script for Marnie while Prince Rainier is under siege by Charles de Gaulle and facing the loss of his kingdom.

De Gaulle (André Penvern) is furious that Rainier is poaching France’s most lucrative tax payers.  When Rainier refuses to yield, de Gaulle threatens military action and prepares to cut off Monaco’s currency supply, the French Franc.  There is a spy in the palace and it is Grace who ferrets out the traitor.  The idea is a good one, but the writing and directing are too bland for us to believe there is anything much at stake.

Dehan also includes a fatally misguided sub-plot, an offshoot of a rather tedious relationship between Grace and her friend and adviser, Francis Tucker (Frank Langella), the palace priest. In view of the threat from de Gaulle, it is essential that Grace and Rainier stand united behind the title.

Not only is Grace pressured into declining the role of Marnie, but she decides to learn about the etiquette, the manners and customs of her adopted country. Toward this end Tucker introduces her to Count Fernando D’Aillieres (an embarrassingly hammed up cameo from Sir Derek Jacobi) as effeminate as he is affected.  It is at this point where if you do not become drowsy, you might ask why Grace left it so late.

There is enough potential in the story of Grace of Monaco for us to regret that the script does not do more with it. And while Paz Vega is a good Maria Callas and Tim Roth makes a suitable Rainier, more French speakers are needed to heighten the feeling of Grace’s isolation in a foreign world.

The big climax is supposed to be Grace’s ‘I am Monaco, I am love’ speech that melts de Gaulle at a charity ball she organises to diffuse the crisis.  The idea is a good one, though: Grace, whose charity still lives on through the family, employs the charm tactics and tears that won her an Oscar for Country Girl to help save the nation and solidify her marriage.

But the speech is so poorly written and her tears so phoney that they would not melt butter, let alone de Gaulle, who, in fact, neither melted nor capitulated to Monaco. That Kidman could contain laughter and produce tears is about the only testament to her acting skills that is on show here.

The Grimaldi family apparently denounced the film, objecting to the portrayal of the marriage, which, if anything, seems happier than is probably the case.  In the film, Rainier regrets not having met Hitchcock, and before the financial crisis with France flares up, he is willing to let her return to Hollywood.  In reality, Rainier banned all of her films from being shown in Monaco.

Joyce Glasser – MT film reviewer