Grace of Monaco
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 1st June 2014
Although it will inevitably be compared with the Diana biopic which flopped amidst much critical derision last year, Grace of Monaco clearly desires to align itself more with its director’s previous success, La Vie En Rose. Olivier Dahan had a huge hit on his hands with the life of French songbird Edith Piaf, rendered superbly by Marion Cotillard who went on to win the Best Actress Oscar and has since effortlessly crossed the French-Hollywood divide. Given Grace’s European setting, you’d expect more than a little panache and a certain je ne sais quoi in Dahan’s latest.
“Hélas!”, as they say in Monaco – Grace makes for as big a disappointment as Diana did for the chap who’d previously made Downfall. Perhaps this is an object lesson in leaving royalty alone.
In theory it should have worked. Say what you like about Nicole Kidman, she has played some good roles in her time and it’s certainly easier to see Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco in Kidman than it was to suspend disbelief at Naomi Watt’s painful Princess Di. Even the casting of quality British actor Tim Roth as Prince Rainier needn’t have signalled désastre.
Instead, plod plod plod goes the story – an unsatisfying and just not terribly interesting intermingling of Grace Kelly’s longing to return to the silver screen with Monaco’s political problems as the principality prepares to fight a French invasion. With varying degrees of success, actors swish into shot to portray President de Gaulle, opera singer Maria Callas and Alfred Hitchcock (an absolutely dreadful Roger Ashton-Griffiths whose face you’ll know and name you can forget). Kidman pouts and poses through a terribly over-expository script (in case we don’t know our Monacan history – which alright, no, we probably don’t) and even though there is a climax of sorts, you may not notice it.
However, for many cinema-goers just the setting of glamorous 1960s palace life will be enough. Aristotle Onassis throws a heck of a yacht party, and throughout the film Grace’s costumes are to die for. A driving scene is filmed with old-fashioned back projection, which is a nice touch (though it seems to be setting us up for the tragic denouement of Kelly’s life, which is in fact not part of this story). There is stunning scenery, of course, and a sumptuous oldy-worldy production design.
But ultimately not even heavyweights like Derek Jacobi and Frank Langella can lift the film above a Tuesday night TV movie biopic. While Grace recommits to palace life under instruction to play “the role of her life”, it’s fair to say Kidman should move rapidly forward without a backward glance.