Upclose and impersonal — that's Grace Of Monaco. Despite the oddly tight close-ups of Nicole Kidman’s face — which, equally oddly, is rather unevenly made up — there is little that is revelatory or warm.
Whether the aforementioned close-ups or the act of wiping makeup off her face, or the underscoring of momentous events with literally exploding fireworks and quivering trees — the cinematic devices for intimacy in the Grace Kelly biopic feel clunky.
On paper, director Olivier Dahan sounds like the right man for the job, given the plaudits — including an Oscar for the leading lady — garnered by his Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose. With Grace of Monaco — that’s also financed by Yash Raj Films — most of the drama happened offstage.
Everyone seemed cross with the biopic, including the royal family of Monaco, famed producer/film distributor Harvey Weinstein and audiences in Cannes where it was the opening night attraction.
Given these squabbles, expectations of Grace were low, and in large part these expectations were met. However there’s also a lot of visual lushness to the film — and Kidman does exude star wattage in gowns by designer Gigi Lepage accessorised by diamonds from Cartier.
Dahan’s film is set in the late 1950s/early 1960s, as film actress Grace is struggling to reinvent herself as royalty, following her marriage to Monaco's Prince Rainier (Tim Roth). The emotional action is set off by Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) visiting his favourite Academy Award winning actress-turned-princess, to convince her to return to acting for his film Marnie.
Will she, won’t she, ho-hum.
The subplot isn’t of the nail-biting variety either — suspicions of palace intrigue involving Rainier’s sister Princess Antoinette (Geraldine Somerville) and a lady-in-waiting (Parker Posey).
Meanwhile, the dramatic action centres on French President Charles de Gaulle’s (André Penvern) designs on the little French principality. Worried about the costs being incurred in the Algerian War, he doesn’t take kindly to French businessmen using tax-free Monaco as a tax haven.
He tells the Prince that the incomes of Monaco’s super-rich and the super-indolent must be taxed, and the amounts paid to France. Otherwise, he will find a military solution: “You agree to my terms or I’ll send Monaco back to the Dark Ages!” Oh dear.
But Princess Grace takes this threat seriously and decides to save her country. She is assisted by a nobleman, played by Derek Jacobi, who embarks on a How to Train Your Princess (To Act as A Princess) routine; five years into her marriage, she seems to know little about the little country that’s her home.
Also assisting is Frank Langella playing a priest; he advises that becoming the Princess she needs to be would be “the greatest role” of her career.
Everything feels contrived and overblown from the dilemmas faced by Grace, the actress and “daughter of a Philadelphia brick layer” who has done very very good; to the celebrity cameos that include Aristotle Onassis (Robert Lindsay) and his mistress Maria Callas (Paz Vega); to the climactic moment, Princess Grace’s speech at the Red Cross dinner.
In fairness, Grace of Monaco is not an actively awful film; it’s just surprisingly inert.
Director: Olivier Dahan
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Derek Jacobi, Parker Posey
Storyline: Grace Kelly struggles to reinvent herself as Princess Grace within marital and political circumstances that are less-than-ideal.
Bottomline: Inert — if visually sumptuous — fictionalising of a royal tale.