With new film Grace of Monaco out soon, what made Kelly such a star?

A novelist who made Grace Kelly his heroine explains her allure

When the new Nicole Kidman biopic Grace of Monaco opens the Cannes Film Festival it will get plenty of good (by which I mean free) publicity for at least one bad reason. The royal family of Monaco is furious. Grace Kelly’s son, Prince Albert, is spoiling for a right royal row. He and his sisters have claimed that the director ignored their feelings by making a drama about their adored mother, Princess Grace, who died in a car crash in 1982.

I can see why a film-maker would want to put Kelly back on screen, even by proxy. Sixty years after she won the Best Actress Oscar in 1954 for The Country Girl, she continues to fascinate. She was gorgeous, beguilingly enigmatic, smart, resourceful, conflicted and totally timeless.

Albert of Monaco and his sisters have denounced Olivier Dahan’s film before it even opens. They will surely be affronted that the authorities at Cannes have chosen it to open this year’s event. Monaco is just around the corner from Cannes and the festival is the reason Albert’s parents met in the first place. Back in 1955, when she was one of the top film stars in the world, Kelly went on a day trip to the palace at Monte Carlo where she met Prince Rainier. They were married less than a year later. Perhaps their son will show up on the Croisette to denounce Kidman in person come May. That would be a PR coup.

The film was already mired in controversy long before its premiere was announced. Forensic attention was given to whether Kidman, now in her late forties, was too old to play Kelly at 30. Questions were also asked about whether the filmmakers were wise to focus on a period of Kelly’s life in the early 1960s that was dominated by a (yawn-inducing) quarrel between Monaco and France over constitutional rights and territory.

Then the director was rumoured to have claimed that his film had been harmed by producers who wanted it re-cut. The release was supposed to be last year but it has been postponed, and postponed again, nearly always a sign of trouble. The fears are that it could turn out to be this year’s Diana disaster. It won’t.

The last time Kelly was portrayed in a feature was by Cheryl Ladd, a former Charlie’s Angel whose performing talents were better suited to Kalashnikov than Stanislavski. Kidman is no Cheryl Ladd. She is one of the finest actresses of her generation and it’s fitting she will portray one of the finest actresses of the 1950s. Kelly wasn’t just ridiculously beautiful, she really could act. The best directors wanted to work with her, she held her own on screen opposite Cary Grant and James Stewart, walked off with an Oscar after only a few years, and then walked away for good when only 26. Kidman is a star of the first rank and will know that Kelly became more interesting, not less, after she left Hollywood. The wonder is that nobody thought to make a film about her life as a princess before now.

Grace Kelly and her husband, Prince Rainier Born in the same year as Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy, Kelly had few peers when it came to global celebrity by the time she married Prince Rainier in the spring of 1956. More reporters covered that royal wedding than had been at D-Day. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Kelly and Rainier were fodder for columnists in a way that was only comparable to Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Yet throughout the years of crazy fame, Kelly retained her dignity, kept her marriage on track, raised three children (who only went off the rails after she died), and did a serious amount of work for charity and the arts.

This was why I made her the heroine of my novel The Comeback. Her history as the perfect Hitchcock blonde makes her an ideal character for a thriller. My novel also speculates about the big issues of her later life: why did she leave Hollywood, why did she never go back, and did she die a happy woman or an unfulfilled one who regretted trading in her talents for a tiara? In the book she uses her intelligence, her wealth and connections, and her diplomatic passport to solve a mystery that takes her behind the Iron Curtain and almost kills her. It’s set in the last year of her life when – at 52 – there were signs that she might return to acting. She’d been reading scripts again and was active on the board of a major film studio. By that time Hitchcock was dead but there were plenty of younger directors desperate to lure her into making the big comeback.

Grace of Monaco shows her as the kind of woman determined to put personal desires aside and stick to the path of duty she’d chosen when she walked up the aisle of Monaco’s cathedral, but later in life she may have been ready to take on roles other than the one she’d married into.

Fictionalising her final year on Earth and making her a Hitchcock-style heroine once again allowed me to reclaim the best of Kelly. The Comeback is an imagined caper that draws on the mythology and makes her heroic. The book also tries to clear up the most glaring errors about her personal history: did Hitchcock bitchily call her “Princess Disgrace”? The story goes that he resented her abdication from his movies (they’d made three hits together and he wanted more). I was able to read their personal correspondence at the palace in Monaco. Instead of being furious, Hitchcock had written to her in a deeply considerate way. “After all, it was only a movie, Grace,” wrote The Master, allaying her guilt and thereby remaining her friend until death.

Another myth that has grown over the years was that she was murdered by the Mafia, who rigged the brakes of her car, or that her under-age daughter was actually driving and lost control. It now seems undeniable that she simply had a seizure at the wheel that caused her to lose consciousness on the most dangerous part of a mountain road. A Hitchcock hairpin bend.

It is cinema’s loss she never made another film, but the Kidman biopic will be a comeback of sorts for Kelly. Her “look” has been captured faithfully. Squint slightly and Kidman could be Kelly in the early 1960s, a bouffant beauty in Chanel and Hermès. Whether filmgoers will flock to see Grace of Monaco or not, the film and the attendant fuss may well encourage a new generation to check out Kelly’s short but sweet Hollywood career. She made fewer than a dozen movies in half a dozen years. Some of them are gems, and even the lesser ones are made watchable by her luminous, expressive face.

‘The Comeback’ by Jude Quillan is available from Amazon (paperback and Kindle) £7.99

Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Carell in the poster for new film 'Foxcatcher'
filmExclusive: First look at comic actor in first major serious role
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Kingston Road in Stockton is being filmed for the second series of Benefits Street
arts + entsFilming for Channel 4 has begun despite local complaints
Arts and Entertainment
Led Zeppelin

music
Arts and Entertainment
Radio presenter Scott Mills will be hitting the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce performs in front of a Feminist sign at the MTV VMAs 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has taken home the prize for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Paige and Scott Lowell in Queer as Folk (Season 5)
tvA batch of shows that 'wouldn't get past a US network' could give tofu sales an unexpected lift
Arts and Entertainment
books... but seller will be hoping for more
Arts and Entertainment
John Kearns winner of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award with last years winners: Bridget Christie and Frank Skinner
comedyJohn Kearns becomes the first Free Fringe act to win the top prize
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Sue Vice
booksAcademic says we should not disregard books because they unexpectedly change genre
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Muscato performs as Michael Crawford in Stars in Their Eyes

TV
Arts and Entertainment
‘Game of Thrones’

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

    Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

    Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
    Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

    Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

    The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
    America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

    America’s new apartheid

    Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
    Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

    What is the appeal of Twitch?

    Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
    Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

    How bosses are making us work harder

    As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
    Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

    Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

    As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
    Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

    A tale of two writers

    Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
    Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

    Should pupils get a lie in?

    Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
    Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

    Prepare for Jewish jokes...

    ... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
    SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

    A dream come true for SJ Watson

    Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    10 best cycling bags for commuters

    Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
    Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

    Paul Scholes column

    Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?