Anyone aware of the troubled production of Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco and the recent spate of utterly atrocious princess movies (cough, Diana, vomit) will attest that things haven’t bode well for this royal picture and that to approach it with an epic trepidation is an understatement. To top it all off, the current House of Grimaldi itself boycotted Dahan’s film, calling it a ‘farce’, as though such a flagrant, slightly controversial movie like this is enough to topple the entire historical reputation that Mónegasque royal family have built for eras. So, as this Grace Kelly pseudo-biopic sweeps and bows in Cannes Film Festival to open the twelve-day event, hundreds of critical vultures have descended into the Palais, sniffing a potential disaster and already conceiving half-formed critical opinions, waiting to be unleashed as soon as the picture hits the screen. And et voila – a gang of critics have already lambasted it as worse than Oliver Hirschbiegel’s Diana, perhaps in attempt to write savagely funny reviews and bring on the LOLs and one-sided jokes to the otherwise serious attempt in shedding light to Kelly’s role as a woman, wife and a political figure in her post-Hollywood life.
So allow me to defend Dahan’s film – it’s far from shit and far from the disaster everyone’s growling about. And to compare it to Hirschbiegel’s Diana is a blatant insult. That tawdry romantic soap opera is the worst of its kind – howlingly awful in characterisation, direction and Naomi Watts is a scene-chewing mess that blemish an otherwise good career. Grace of Monaco, however, is leagues above that film. It’s handsomely mounted, often artfully shot, and it features a convincingly dedicated performance by Nicole Kidman, whose refusal to merely mimic Kelly is somewhat admirable, plumbing both the actor’s persona and presence, veering from primped-up, bejewelled glamourpuss to sympathetic woman besieged by a personal midlife crisis. Princesses have problems, too, and it’s no easy task to sympathise with females whose lives skirt around proprietary excess. These royally pampered darlings slumber under gilded ceilings in a palace that’s worth more than a continent, and any hint of drama is more than likely to be filed under Spoiled Rich Aristocratic Life with no social relevance whatsoever. This is not a socialist film, and it has no desire to be. Kelly is no Diana Spencer, either, despite of similarities. What sets Kelly apart from other movie princesses is that she’s a Hollywood icon forged from her wilful combination of elegance and craft. I wouldn’t call her a great actress, but she’s an icon nonetheless. An actress before she turned her back on her career to become a housewife with two kids albeit in a super-rich house.
We’re not supposed to agree how they live, and if Grace of Monaco borders on a shameless self-promotion of the state’s tax haven status for the mega-loaded, at least it shows us how it kept itself that way. It’s this political element that sets Dahan’s Grace from many princess movies, and historical accuracy is beside the point. It boldly states this is a fictionalised account on the behind-the-scenes drama that rocked the Monte Carlo palace during Charles de Gaulle’s political maneouvering to claim Monaco’s lawful sovereignty. Dahan never presumes this is exactly what happened, but he tries to capture the portrait of Grace as a woman in crossroads, along with her loneliness, her creative crisis, insecurity, self-doubt, marriage in turmoil and her involvement behind the Grimaldi drawing rooms than what history books give her credit for. That she stood up and did something to protect her home, her family and children rather than sitting prettily on the throne and wait for her husband Prince Rainier (a serviceable Tim Roth) in his shining armour to sort things out. If Kidman’s sincere and admittedly poignant speech at the end of the Red Cross ball has anything to tell us, it’s that Kelly sacrificed a personal passion and committed herself to play the final role in her life in ways that she knew how. Viewed from that perspective, it’s a reversal of the traditional fairy tale we all know. Happy endings just don’t happen, and for Kelly, she had to earn it.