The announcement this morning that Harvey Weinstein had negotiated himself a better deal on the US distribution rights for “Grace Of Monaco” (by $2-3m, according to Variety) must have been bittersweet for the film’s producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogom, director Olivier Dahan and star Nicole Kidman. At least the embarrassment of a total TWC pullout has been thwarted but there’s still a shadow over this troubled and contentious production on the eve of its red-carpet premiere in Cannes. Having already lacerated the script last year, despite allowing Dahan to shoot in the principality, Princess Grace’s children fired another salvo last week, declaring that “the princely family does not in any way wish to be associated with this film, which reflects no reality”.
It’s no surprise to see Dahan’s opening title label the film a “fictional” take “based on real events”. With rumblings out of London from critics who’d already seen the film that “Grace Of Monaco” was a dud to rival “Diana”, this morning’s press screening revealed that assessment to be unduly harsh but also confirmed that in no way will it be the Oscar bait Weinstein was no doubt hoping for when he first boarded the project, lured by Dahan’s seeming talent with biopics as evidenced by “La Vie En Rose”, Kidman’s star power and an iconic figure whose transition from movie star to princess still exerts a powerful hold on popular imagination.
This morning’s press-screening reaction was muted to say the least. There were a few wolf whistles at the end, and laughter frequently erupted during some awkward and unnatural dialogue (the actor playing Hitchcock is particularly hard done by: every time he opens his mouth another clunker aiming to be a bon mot tumbles out). Take it as read that Dahan’s Grace of Monaco is his own fantasy vision of the character, fuelled by his fascination with actresses in general, including Kidman, and the similarities he saw between Kelly’s royal life in a gilded cage and the one Kidman led during her marriage to Tom Cruise.
As he told me a few weeks ago on the phone, for Dahan “Grace Of Monaco” is as much a study of Kidman as it is of Grace herself, although that’s unlikely to console the irate Grimaldis. But having listened to Dahan explain the themes he wanted to explore – namely, whether an artist can ever truly give up being one – it’s disappointing to see that aspect get short shrift in the final film, which focuses too much on the dry political battle between Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) and French president Charles De Gaulle over Monaco’s role as a corporate tax haven. Dahan even uses the escalating crisis to resolve the narrative’s crossroads-of-life conceit, with Grace gaining confidence by serving her chain-smoking husband and his vulnerable principality, using her charms to throw De Gaulle’s bloodhound off Rainier’s scent.
It’s a strange choice, given that the film depicts their union as stifling and possibly loveless for the most part, before sending cupid arrows flying in the final stretch. Weinstein is known to have wanted more about Grace’s time in Hollywood and the romantic backdrop to her becoming a princess, and it’s true that what sequences there are in Dahan’s film do tantalise and leave you wanting more. There are some strong moments in the film, including a strained phone call Grace makes to her mother back in Philadelphia and scenes featuring Frank Langella as Rainier’s spiritual advisor.
As for Kidman, she looks radiant and stunning; the production’s hair, make-up, costume, production design and location teams have performed their jobs well and the film oozes a sense of fairytale glamour. Ultimately, though, it’s a royal wallow filled with too many dawdling close-ups of the actress and peculiar interludes (Parker Posey borders on parody as a mildly menacing Mrs Danvers type, while the less said about Derek jacobi cropping up for a segment in which Grace takes Monagesque etiquette lessons, the better).
At the press conference following, Kidman was the focus of attention, with a few highlights below. Minutes after it finished, Weinstein released a statement about why he won’t be attending the premiere tonight: he’s in Jordan on a “long-planned trip” with the UNHCR to visit Syrian refugee camps but wishes everyone involved the best.
– The first question from a journalist asked Kidman about her reaction to the Grimaldi family’s attack on the film. “Obviously I feel sad because the film has no malice towards the family or towards Grace or Rainier. It’s not a biopic. But I understood also because it’s their mother and father and I understand that [feeling] of protection and privacy. It’s awkward is what it is but I say that with respect and I want them to know that the performance was done with love. If they ever did see it, I think they would see that there was an enormous amount of affection for both their parents and the love story of their parents.”
– Dahan, who looked like he was feeling beleaguered up on stage, on whether a different version would be released in the US: “There’s only one version of the film. Harvey will use that version. If some changes need to be made, we’ll do them together. There’s no longer any dispute; everything has been totally resolved. We work well together and I’m very pleased with the current situation.”
– Dahan on why he decided to blur the lines between historical fact and fiction: “Almost everything is true… real. We did invent something in the screenplay: De Gaulle never went to the Red Cross ball in Monaco but I wanted to make a film and I needed to have the two main protagonists in the same place, even if they never talk to each other. So I twisted reality just a little bit without really twisting it… I read up on history very carefully but I’m not a biographer or historian. Hitchcock never visited Grace in the palace, he just called her. But I needed to bring characters together. It’s just a question of images really. What I’ve tried to achieve is not to show facts, but to depict the heart of things. I used my intuition and that of the actors as well. What we wanted to show was what Grace Kelly might have looked like or done in this or that situation.”
– Kidman’s favourite Grace Kelly performance, and favourite Hitchcock film as well, is “Rear Window”. Hitchcock’s films were the main inspiration for DoP Eric Gautier in terms of how he and Dahan wanted “Grace Of Monaco” to look, in particular “Dial M For Murder”, “Rear Window” and “To Catch A Thief”. Said Gautier: “I tried to use the aesthetics of the time, the early ’60s, and it was important always to feel that the film belongs to the world of cinema, especially Hitchcock. My way to translate it was to show that she is an actress.”
– Kidman, who wears a $5m Cartier necklace in the film, was asked a personal question whether she’d ever give up her career for love, and said without hesitation: “I wouldn’t think twice about it… I’ve certainly existed without love in my life and it’s a very empty life. I’ve always said when I won the Oscar, I went home and I didn’t have that in my life. And that was the most intensely lonely period of my life. My professional highs have often coincided with personal lows. They’ve kind of collided and that’s always aggravated me.”