GRACE OF MONACO
Director: Olivier Dahan
Screenwriter: Arash Amel
Roger Ashton Griffiths
Runtime: 103 mins.
Australian release date: 5 June 2014
Olivier Dahan’s, Grace of Monaco, opened the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, where it was shunned by the House of Grimaldi and crucified by the critics. At a recent press screening in Sydney there was a polite snicker when the credits started to roll and the disclaimer, “a fictitious account of real events,” appeared on the screen. It then cut to grainy footage of the winding road leading down to Monaco and seemed to confirm the fact that one was in for a rocky ride. Primarily set in 1962, the film chronicles a chapter in the life of one of the 20th century’s most popular celebrities, the Hollywood actress Grace Kelly, who was wooed by Prince Rainier III of Monaco, in 1955, when she was invited to a photo session at his palace, while attending the Cannes Film Festival. Grace went on to marry the Prince and became Her Serene Royal Highness the Princess of Monaco. As such, she famously declared that, “The idea of my life as a fairy-tale is itself a fairy-tale,” and this statement pretty much sets the tone for the film. According to Arash Amel’s screenplay, the princess soon learns that hers is a loveless marriage, but she selflessly sacrifices her freedom and happiness and subsequently, almost single-handedly, becomes the saviour of Monaco - which turns on its head the old adage that truth is stranger than fiction!
In the early ‘60s, Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) was being hounded by the president of France, Charles de Gaulle, who was threatening to send in the troops if the chain-smoking Prince, constantly referred to as ‘Ray’, refused to tax the inhabitants of the Principality. Monaco was providing a tax haven for the very rich like Aristotle Onassis, the Greek shipping tycoon (played here rather rakishly by the British actor Robert Lindsay) and de Gaulle was angered by France’s resulting loss of revenue. Onassis was dating Maria Callas, played superbly by Spanish actress Paz Vega, who lip synchs the diva’s rendition of Puccini’s ‘O Mio Babbino Caro’ to perfection during the only scene in the film that has any emotive resonance. Meanwhile, Princess Grace (Nicole Kidman) is being enticed to return to Hollywood by Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton Griffiths) to play the lead in Marnie - the role that eventually went to Tippi Hedren - but she decides to stay put and sort out her life’s problems… and the Principality’s too. Hitch gets the final word though, sending her a message reminding her never ‘to stand too close to the edge of the frame.’
The palace is full of long corridors populated by all sorts of strange characters lurking in the shadows, like the mysterious Madge (Parker Posey), who seems to stalk the princess’s every move; but Grace is not without her supporters: she is counselled by her close friend Father Francis Tucker (Frank Langella) and coached in court etiquette by the ‘flamboyant’ Count Fernando D’Aillieres (Derek Jacobi). Kidman carries off her role with conviction, but is hampered by a terrible script that even the greatest actress would have difficulty delivering persuasively. Well, until the very end at least, when she gives a multi-accented speech at the Red Cross Ball that is supposed to be the catalyst in repairing Franco-Monégasque relations. Hard to believe in life and even harder to believe in the movie!
The sumptuous interior and exterior locations in various parts of France, Belgium, Italy and, in particular, Monaco, and Gigi Lepage’s stunning costumes are simply not enough to sustain the plot. Grace of Monaco should move promptly to DVD shelves, sitting alongside its equally nonsensical counterpart Diana. The real tragedy is that two fine Australian actresses were seduced into playing these popular icons of the 20th century, both of whom met untimely deaths, and by doing so, have put their careers at risk of meeting a similar end. Time will tell.