Grace of Monaco follows the story of former screen star Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman) during the period in which she lived in Monaco in the early 1960s. With her husband Prince Rainier III (Tim Roth) in the depths of a political dispute with Charles de Gaulle (Andre Penvern) and Monaco on the brink of invasion from France, Grace Kelly finds herself in a world that is a little too far from home. Torn between acting and the duties of a princess, she undergoes an identity crisis that rocks her marriage. Determined to save her fairytale marriage, she must embrace her role as a princess and undergo training with her friend Father Francis Tucker (Frank Langella) to become a princess that the people of Monaco, and Europe, will respect.
Biographical films are challenging and risky, the pressure to get every little detail right is huge, especially when your subject is screen goddess Grace Kelly. It would appear that in Grace of Monaco director Olivier Dahan lacked confidence in his biographical work, as made evident in the opening disclaimer that reads: ‘this is a fictional account inspired by true events’. From the get-go we gain the sense that Dahan has taken it upon himself to liberally portray a semi-biographical recount of Grace Kelly’s glamorous life, and it’s a portrayal that is disappointing from the beginning.
The biggest blunder of the film is Nicole Kidman, whose frozen forehead gives the actress about as much expression as the Nicole Kidman waxed figure in Madame Tussauds. She fails to capture the poise, elegance, stature and grace of Grace Kelly and looks to have given little thought to the way the character should move and speak. Instead we witness Nicole Kidman playing what seems to have become her stock character: a breathy, whiney, soft-spoken damsel in distress, reminiscent of the bimbo she plays at the end of The Stepford Wives. The hair and make up department have kept with the simple, understated look Grace Kelly was known for, but you can’t help but think maybe some prosthetics or a little CGI would have been useful in helping Kidman to even slightly embody the character. It’s a shame because she is a talented actor, but this role does her portfolio of work no justice.
Nicole Kidman’s lack of expression isn’t helped by cinematographer Eric Gautier’s camera work, which is basic and in no way outstanding. It’s as though halfway through the film Gautier has discovered the extreme close-up shot, excited with his new-found technique he decides to use it excessively to capture the lack of emotion that streams from Kidman’s eyes. The red-rimmed eyes repetitively feature through a series of extreme close-up shots that awkwardly pan across Kidman’s face or hover on her gaze. This weird montage of eyeball shots does nothing to propel the story forward, in fact it’s hard to determine what their purpose is.
Yet even brilliant camerawork and acting would have done little to save the script, which is so cheesy and full of dramatic one-liners it’s almost embarrassing having to watch talented actors like Tim Roth and Frank Langella perform it. The worst line of the film is spoken by the Charles de Gaulle character, who declares in the most dramatically stereotypical, stock French character accent: “I’ll send Monaco back into the dark ages.” It was a moment so bad it was laughable.
Grace Kelly’s story is fascinating and has so much potential to be retold in a biographical film that could be incredible. However, having focused only on her time in Monaco and having ended without a resolution, Grace of Monaco gives the impression there might be a sequel. If a sequel were to be made, let’s hope it does Grace Kelly’s legacy more justice than this film did.
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