Director: Olivier Dahan
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Parker Posey, Paz Vega
The Indian Express rating: **
“I DON’T believe in fairy tales, but I do believe in happy endings.” That line by a priest played with hand-on-his-heart solemnity by Frank Langella is enough warning how Grace of Monaco will wrap up. But even that is little preparation for the speech Nicole Kidman is forced to deliver — camera panning into her face, her surprisingly badly made up eyes, and even her mouth — in one of her final scenes as Grace Kelly, the Oscar-winning actress who gave up Hollywood to marry the Prince of Monaco.
The provocation is France threatening to overrun its small protectorate of Monaco. With Charles de Gaulle looking on from what is not even the high table at a “ball” hosted by her, Kidman’s Kelly talks cloyingly of not wanting to see “beauty being crushed” or “people who are doing their own thing getting hurt”, and of her “being Monaco itself” in the fairy tale that the island of very rich and very idle people represents.
It’s as bad a disservice as could have been done to this film troubled for a very long time. Financed by Yash Raj Films, it had director Dahan pitted against the might of Harvey Weinstein as well as Grace Kelly’s children, who protested against the depiction of their parents’ marriage as unhappy. That is surprising given the sunny light in which Dahan bathes Kelly and her story, but what the Red Cross ball speech does is reaffirm that, much as the film may hotfoot around the point, Monaco’s argument against de Gaulle’s militant demands had little basis. France wants its rich enjoying the hospitality of tax-free Monaco to pay it, and Monaco, for whom they are the only income, is protesting in the vacant-eyed, cigarette-puffing form of Tim Roth (as Monaco’s Prince Rainier).
And protest he does. While the film has been much panned since it opened Cannes, it is to Grace of Monaco’s credit that it takes a chance with the amount of time it devotes to old men smoking and politicking in dark rooms around round tables and bulky phones. Particularly as when it does move away, it is to Kidman in unfailingly gorgeous clothes, captured always in warm tones.
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Dahan, who achieved critical acclaim and success with La Vie En Rose on the life of singer Edith Piaf (including an Oscar for Marion Cotillard), also gets at least one thing right given that he has to not just capture one real-life royalty but at least two Hollywood royalties, in both Kelly and Kidman. At the heart of this story lies a woman forced to make a choice neither of which will make her truly happy. Should she follow her heart, proceed back to Hollywood as sought by an embarrassing Roger Ashton-Griffiths as Hitchcock, and risk losing her children and being called a failure — something her father always hinted might happen? Or should she make the best of what she has in Monaco, however lonely it leaves her amid the intrigues of Europe’s oldest royal court, rediscover love with her husband and raise two children together? Could this “daughter of a Philadelphia brick layer” even complain of the choices open to her?
Any woman put in that situation of “sacrifice” can understand what Kelly is going through. And despite all the pancake, the cornball dialogues, the cheesy “royal decorum training” and the unabashed distortion of historical facts, Kidman realises and conveys that.
It is Grace of Monaco’s only strength.