Grace of Monaco, first look Cannes review: Nicole Kidman excels in fairy tale film

4.00

For all the crudity of its plotting, this is a subtle and stylised character study

It is easy to mock films about beautiful and unhappy princesses living pampered Eurotrash lives. Grace Of Monaco, which opened Cannes today, arrived at the festival already trailing controversy in its wake.

Its US distributor Harvey Weinstein’s reportedly tried to tinker with the director Olivier Dahan’s original cut (the version showing at the festival) on the grounds that it was too downbeat. Princess Grace’s children were said to be unhappy with the portrayal of their mother.

Thankfully, in bringing Grace Kelly’s story to screen, Dahan seems as much inspired by Max Ophuls and MGM melodramas as by Hello Magazine or Paris Match.

Grace Of Monaco is a star vehicle par excellence - an old fashioned weepie in which Nicole Kidman (as Grace) is given as many lambent close-ups (and changes of costume) as Greta Garbo once received in Queen Christina or Anna Karenina.

Kidman excels in a role in which she is called on to project glamour and suffering in equal measure - and is never allowed to be seen in the same outfit twice.

Grace Of Monaco has its share of toe-curling, Diana-style moments. In particular, the scenes in which Grace makes small talk with opera star Maria Callas (Paz Vega) are excruciating. The jokes about whales’ penises cracked by Callas’ husband, shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis (Robert Lindsay in a role a long way removed from Citizen Smith days), fall very flat. There are moments when the film plays like a Riviera-version of Dynasty. Some of the dialogue - “politics is never on vacation Miss Callas” - is clunky in the extreme.

 

However, for all the crudity of its plotting, this is a subtle and stylised character study. Watching the film, it is easy to be reminded of Gloria Swanson’s famous line from Sunset Boulevard, “we didn’t need dialogue, we had faces.” Dahan understands the power of the close-up. The camera homes in on Kidman as often as possible. Her features, which dominate the screen, are far more expressive than the often trite words she and the other characters utter.

Nicole Kidman stars as Grace Kelly Nicole Kidman stars as Grace Kelly

The story is largely set in the early 1960s. France, under General De Gaulle, wants the citizens of Monaco to pay taxes. Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) insists that Monaco is a sovereign nation. The French have launched a trade blockade. That’s the political backcloth. Meanwhile, within the Palace walls, Princess Grace is feeling very neglected and unhappy. Alfred Hitchcock has offered her $1 million to star in his new film Marnie. Prince Rainier reluctantly agrees to let her take the role. He is too busy with affairs of state to pay much attention not her anyway.

As in Cinderella-style fairy tales, the court is full of rivalry and backbiting. Grace is terrorised by her Rosa Klebb-like Lady In Waiting Madge (Parker Posey). She is treated with condescension by the aristocracy, who are always keen to remind Rainier she is the daughter of a brick builder from Philadelphia. She gradually realises that being a princess is akin to playing a role in a Hollywood movie. The sympathetic Count Fernando (Derek Jacobi) tutors her in what the Monaco public and court expect of her.

A febrile Grace Kelly is comforted at the Prince's Palace of Monaco A febrile Grace Kelly is comforted at the Prince's Palace of Monaco

Grace Of Monaco is bound to be dismissed by its detractors as novelettish and melodramatic. After all, the climactic moment here is the Red Cross Ball of 1962 and it is hard to work up too much sympathy for the non tax paying citizens of the City-State in their battle against France. For all its seeming superficiality, this is a film of considerable formal sophistication. Grace declares early on that the “idea of her life as a fairy tale” is itself a “fairy tale.”

The contradictory challenge the filmmakers set themselves is to reveal the prosaic reality of Grace’s life in Monaco without destroying its mystique. Thanks to the extraordinarily rich costume and production design and to Kidman’s febrile star performance, they just about rise to it.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
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.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing