The much-maligned opening film of this year’s Cannes Film Festival was the geographically apposite Grace of Monaco (2014), starring Nicole Kidman as the Philadelphia-born Hollywood actress who married a prince. The film begins with a quote from Grace Kelly herself: “The idea of my life as a fairytale is itself a fairytale.” Anyone hoping for a curative dose of reality has been sadly misled. The film isn’t just bad – it’s awful – ineptly directed (Olivier Dahan), terribly written (Arash Amel) and bafflingly acted by an assortment of miscast faces. Tim Roth has never been an actor of broad range, but his Prince Rainier III is simply Tim Roth wearing a pair of spectacles and an appropriate moustache.
Elsewhere, Frank Langella gravels his way through his part as Grace’s priest and confidant offering counsel in her time of need, whilst Robert Lindsay plays Aristotle Onassis. The film opens with Grace Kelly filming her last scene before heading off to her new role as wife and Princess of Monaco. We skip forward a few years and the principality is in crisis, being pressured by the perfidious French to start taxing companies or be subsumed into France. It is at this inopportune moment that Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) arrives with a role for Grace in his new film, Marnie (“Who’s in it?” “Some Scottish fellow Cubby Broccoli raves about.”). Should she take it and risk alienating her subjects and giving the French a publicity coup? Or should she stand by her cig-hungry husband and play the role of a lifetime?
Aided by Camp Count extraordinaire Derek Jacobi – who, with his bounciest diction, at least seems to have the decency to be taking the proverbial – Grace single-handedly takes on her enemies and wins back the love of her husband by learning to stand up straight and speak better French. She tools around in a number of sports cars, wears a variety of frocks and bling, and deigns to help the common people sell produce (!?) as well as offering the French soldiers fruit as a way of getting her husband out of a political fix. One almost has to admire Grace of Monaco’s audacity in having invented the crisis with De Gaulle as a way of manipulating audiences into caring about this vapid aristocracy. Are we really supposed to cheer on the plucky principality for not collecting income tax while the hospitals, orphanages and schools are in dire need of repair? Fortunately, Dahan’s film is too stupid to be dangerous, though the Royal Family and Princess Grace’s children are thought to be scandalised by the film (you can hardly blame them).
This is Barbie doll history of the highest order, with so much of the real-life grit absent. Rainier’s numerous infidelities are a matter of public record and were common knowledge at the time, but here Roth plays him as a nebbish bore who everyone refers to disconcertingly as “Ray”. It’s a small point, but seemingly every character has distractingly glib-sounding nicknames: Gracie, Madge, Ray – even the priest is called Tuck. There’s some nonsense with a spy, some nonsense with the French and some further general nonsense. Grace of Monaco would be even more derisible if it wasn’t for the fact that Kidman was a once fine actress, but this deluded mess is the stuff from which wrecks are made. Kidman plays Kelly as Nicole Kidman throughout and almost pleads for us to see the parallels in her own troubled celebrity (a scene in which she acts out a scene from Marnie over and over again is embarrassingly bad). Kelly was never the finest thespian, but she would’ve nailed that line in one.
This review was originally published on 15 May 2014 as part of our Cannes Film Festival coverage.