Cannes: Grace of Monaco review

Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman) and her marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco (Tim Roth) is the ostensible subject of Olivier Dahan’s soapy biopic Grace of Monaco, but Dahan has not limited himself simply to their relationship. Instead, he’s sought to explore the wider implications of their marriage. It’s an admirable ambition.

Unfortunately, he has almost entirely failed.

As Grace of Monaco begins, Kelly is shown to be already less than happy with her situation. She’s struggling to find her place, attempting to raise her children in the manner which she feels is right, and trying to live up to the ideals implied by her position.

Kidman is clearly striving for a layered and interesting performance, and you can almost see her straining to portray the complexities inherent in the role. We have an actress playing an actress who is then playing many different parts herself, and this should be rather interesting to watch. Unfortunately, Kidman doesn’t have a great deal of help from the screenplay and she has both truly atrocious dialogue and melodramatic plotting. to overcome

Arash Amel’s script is horribly on the nose and often lacks any dramatic tension at all. It’s clear that he never quite managed to find the central, compelling story he should be telling.

One scene shows Kelly practising for the title role in Hitchcock‘s Marnie, a part that ultimately went to Tippi Hedron. We see her run through a variety of different reading of one piece of dialogue, which provides an unfortunate reminder that Kidman has range and ability. It’s ironic that no other scene in the whole film provides Kidman as much opportunity to demonstrate what she can do.

Tim Roth has also been short-changed, though it does seem perhaps that some bizarre, lingering moments in which he just stares awkwardly or austerely tilts his head upwards may actually have been his own bad idea.

The film isn’t really helped by its subplots and supporting roles either. Parker Posey is enjoyable as the stern yet cartoonish Madge, but she appears to have stepped out of a sixties live-action Disney picture; the appearance of Frank Langella is very much a nice piece of casting rather than a good performance; Derek Jacobi is inadvertently hilarious as Kelly’s tutor in all things princessy, including a standout sequence in which he uses flashcards to ‘teach her emotions’; and the less said about Robert Lindsay as Aristotle Onassis or Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Hitchcock the better.

All have been so poorly served by the lightweight script and Dahan’s heavy, occasionally histrionical direction that it’s hard to imagine anyone will come out of this affair untarnished.

Eric Gautier‘s cinematography is also sometimes problematic, particularly in the number of intimate scenes which are shot, somewhat inexplicably, with a roaming, unstable camera. There are other times where he has a better idea of what the scene needs, but unfortunately his lighting and colour palette of the the costume and production design provide a constant distraction. Bright yellows and and oranges flood frames that have been filmed in a ghastly soft focus, a poor approximation of ‘Old Hollywood.’

There’s also been a far too aggressive approach to colour in the DI stage of post-production, adding on another layer of artificiality. The end result is a feeling that this is the exaggerated, soap opera version of the story, not something that we could emotionally invest in.

Dahan and Amel appear to believe that their story says something grand about the roles Kelly played in life – the roles, they might argue, we all play. But this idea is stated obviously at the outset and then no attempt is made to dig deeper into it.

There’s also some idea that Kelly simply needed to be ‘a good wife’ – a concept that left me feeling very queasy indeed – but this too goes without much exploration or explication.

It seems that Kelly, at least as portrayed here, ultimately rolled over out of love for her children. Scratch the surface, though, and there’s also some sense that all of the nonsense, right down to the emotion flashcards, successfully indoctrinated her into a new, subservient role. There’s another, better film about this which would have depth, nuance and a great deal to say, but Dahan’s Grace of Monaco certainly gets nowhere near.

A mostly vacuous, perfume commercial of a feature, Grace of Monaco will no doubt be quickly forgotten, while the many wonderful films in which Grace Kelly starred will live on.