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France/USA/Belgium/Italy 2014
Directed by
Olivier Dahan
103 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Grace Of Monaco

Synopsis: The story of Hollywood starlet Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman) and the early years of her marriage to Monaco's Prince Rainier III (Tim Roth).

Olivier Dahan’s film was mercilessly decried at its Cannes premiere and the ensuing critical response has consistently followed suit. Pay no mind. Grace Of Monaco has been unfairly treated.

There is one prominent problem and that is the casting of Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly. In Diana Naomi Watts did a pretty good job of recreating the ill-fated princess but Kidman has much less to work with. We remember the star of films such as Rear Window and High Society as a face and a beautiful one at that. Her body language and public persona is far less memorable. Somewhat surprisingly exacerbated by director Dahan’s frequent use of close ups, Kidman not only doesn’t look like the iconic starlet, she is far too old for the part (Kidman is in her late 40s, Kelly at the period in which the film is set was in her early 30s) and frankly she is not that flush in the beauty stakes. This visual incongruity applies also to Tim Roth and for that matter most of the other public figures of the time who appear in the story such as Aristotle Onassis and Alfred Hitchcock (André Penvern’s Charles De Gaulle is a winner however whilst Paz Vega makes a passable Maria Callas).  One might also extend this persistent dis-similarity between image and source to the entire film which we are told in the opening titles is a fiction based on real events.

Some may say with justice that accuracy is an obligation of the bio-pic but Grace Of Monaco is a bio-pic in only the very loosest sense, largely being confined to two years of Kelly’s life in the early 1960s. Realism, at least of the biographical kind, is not really an issue here.  As Arash Amel’s screenplay is at pains to point out through Frank Langella’s Father Tucker, spiritual advisor to the royal couple (a somewhat under-developed character), “Grace Kelly” is already a Hollywood construct and “Princess Grace” is merely another role on life’s stage. So forget cold, hard facts and take Dahan’s creation as as intended, as a story about a not-to-the-manor-born princess in search of her destiny and you'll find yourself with a film very much in the classic Hollywood manner: a visually glorious production dealing not just with the lives of the idle rich but right royal ones at that, a tear-stained heroine princess who must save her marriage and her kingdom (how much of the political crisis it is a beat-up I cannot say but her speech at the climactic fairytale ball is a marvel of romantic idealism and surely could not be factual), a magnificent picture-book setting and dynastic intrigue out of Shakespeare via Hitchcock.

Kidman doesn’t play on the heart strings the way that Marion Cotillard did in Dahan’s successful Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose  but the point is that Kelly was, understandably, unsure of herself in her adopted home (we are also given brief insights into her vexed relations with her parents) without even the ability to speak the French language. Although it takes a while to accept her, Kidman does shine through her above-mentioned physical shortcomings and for my money gives one of her most commendable screen performances to date. In a much smaller part Roth delivers a well-crafted interpretation of the typically emotionally-detached husband. 

Rarely has a film been so unjustly maligned or so comprehensively misunderstood. Poor Dahan, poor Nicole, poor Grace.




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