Director Olivier Dahan, who directed Marion Cotillard to her Oscar win in the impressive biopic La Vie en Rose, has had quite a lengthy struggle getting his biopic of Grace Kelly to the big-screen. The main issues stemmed from a long-running dispute with distributors The Weinstein Co. regarding the film’s final edit. It’s a familiar story, only that this one finished with a happy ending for the director. Dahan’s original vision was allowed to be released, which now, in retrospect, makes one wonder whether Harvey Weinstein’s version would have been an improvement. Yes, what culminates here is the type of self-righteous melodrama that would be more at home as a midday screening on television rather than a cinematic release. Mind you, five minutes watching Grace of Monaco and you’d be tempted to see what’s on that shopping network.
“A fictional account inspired by real events,” reads the film’s opening disclaimer, clearly washing its hands of what is about to be a downright silly imagining of Grace Kelly and her life in royalty. Kelly, for those who didn’t know, became a Hollywood starlet in her twenties, even earning an Academy Award for her performance in the 1954 drama The Country Girl. Her life took quite a turn when she married Rainier III, Prince of Monaco. She gave up her Hollywood career to become the Princess of Monaco, a role that would see her struggle to juggle her dreams of acting and her determination to be a princess that the people could look up to. Kelly’s story is a fascinating one, making it so much more of a shame to see the way in which such riveting material has been robbed of all its potential.
The film unfolds in two halves. The first half deals with Kelly’s interests in continuing with her acting career. An amusingly caricatured Alfred Hitchcock, played by Roger Ashton-Griffiths, offers the princess a role in his upcoming film Marnie (a role that was eventually given to Tippi Hedren). After Rainier (Tim Roth) gives her his blessing, on the condition she take care of all press-related matters, she accepts the role. Unfortunately, it isn’t long before the news is leaked to the media, leading to a public outcry suggesting that the princess is abandoning her country and that her marriage may be on the rocks. The second half sees Kelly tackle her role as princess head-on. The film turns into a slight political thriller, as Kelly begins to uncover moles planted within the royal palace. We’re introduced to Rainier and his political dealings, namely finding Monaco on the verge of war with hilariously stereotyped French politicians.
Nicole Kidman tries her best here, ever so slightly generating more interest than the screenplay warrants. Her character is poorly written and, regardless of how many long-lingering extreme close-ups Kidman is given, there’s nothing that can change that. Director Dahan clearly loves his lead actress, pushing his camera up to her face in every second shot, hoping that we’ll be able to read the sort of emotional subtext that the screenplay so lacks. As the prince, Tim Roth doesn’t fare too well. A chain-smoking “thinker” that does little more than look confused, it’s no wonder that his representation was one of the many, many factors that Monaco’s royal family took issue with after watching the film.
Dahan wants you to see Grace Kelly as a saint of sorts, a borderline martyr who gave her life for the good of Monaco. This may be the case, but the film’s incessant fictionalisation of real-life events and over-the-top treatment of her life places everything under the crushing weight of superficiality. There’s not a shred of subtlety to be found here, as Dahan rams his ham-fisted account with an irritating air of self-importance. Those ham-fisted punches could have carried some weight had they been gutsy enough to bring some depth, as opposed to lightly covering the many issues that took place in Kelly’s life.
If there were a positive factor to be seen, it would be in the film’s overall visual design. The costumes and locations are more than picturesque, as is the cinematography by Eric Gautier (The Motorcycle Diaries, Into the Wild). Still, complimenting this film’s visual design puts this on par with a wax exhibit, which may offer a more in-depth account of a royal than this film ever could. On paper, this combination of royal melodrama and political intrigue may have read like a winner, but not even a decent cast can raise this picture from its good-looking coffin.
THE REEL SCORE: 2/10