Director: Olivier Dahan
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella
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Grace of Monaco follows Grace Kelly as she moves from her glittering Hollywood fairytale life to another, equally glittering, fairytale: the life of Her Serene Highness the Princess of Monaco. It’s a story that’s ripe with potential – but places most of the emphasis on ripe.
“You’re a long way from Hollywood now, Grace,” explains her priest (Frank Langella). “You’re in Monaco.” “Yes,” she sighs, then frowns and gazes into the distance. “I know I’m in… Monaco.”
Director Olivier Dahan shoots the film with hands heavier than a pregnant rhinoceros, delivering every story beat as a clunking boom. And so we are treated to endless close-ups of Grace, pretty shots of Monaco and close-ups of Grace again, just in case the title didn’t make it clear who or where she is. All the while, Nicole Kidman sighs, frowns and gazes into the distance.
You might think, then, that her husband’s (Tim Roth) struggle against France to retain Monaco’s independence would provide a relief to all that sighing, frowning and gazing. But Prince Rainier III’s political battle is presented with an equally weighty tone, despite it bearing hardly any resemblance to historical fact. “From here, you can see the whole of Monaco,” a chauffeur says, as he drives through the hills out of town. “Yes, I know,” comes the bored reply. Then they sigh, frown and gaze into the distance.
It’s a shame to see such talent drowned in so much cheese. The twitchy Tim flits between smiling confidently for the cameras and looking concerned, while Nicole Kidman swiftly perfects the image and walk of a monarch. Both are presented with the most pristine of costume designs. But the director’s unsubtle approach turns the cast into human-shaped Dairylea Dunkers, repeatedly dipped into a tub of pungent fromage.
“Everything I do or say is wrong,” says Grace, before fulfilling her royal duties of frowning, sighing and gazing into the distance. It’s a turn that, at worst, recalls Naomi Watts in Diana and, at best, brings to mind Michelle Williams in My Week with Marilyn – particularly when Grace sneaks off for 15 minutes to have elocution lessons with a flamboyant Count Fernando D’Aillieres. He is played, inevitably, by Sir Derek Jacobi, who minces on every possible level, like a camp lasagne.
In the movie’s most laughable sequence, the Count holds up cue cards (presumably stored on the premises for just such occasions) listing emotions for Grace to project. Fear! Anger! Serenity! Then he proceeds to recite history like a text book, while Grace sighs, frowns and gazes into the distance. A card with “Boredom” is strangely missing from his collection.
While everyone spells out exactly what is on their mind, the only member of the ensemble who offers any hint of fun is Parker Posey’s assistant Madge, who is caught up in an international conspiracy. A late night rendezvous, played with an excited touch of humour, gives us a glimpse of what Grace in Monaco could have been. But rather than go down the path of political thriller or straight biopic, Arash Amel’s melodramatic script stumbles, ungracefully, under its unsubtle load. A cameo from Alfred Hitchcock (impersonated by Roger Ashton-Griffiths even less convincingly than Anthony Hopkins in Hitchock) only makes things worse.
“You came here to play the greatest role of your life,” Langella tells the screen icon halfway through, ending any pretence of subtext. It’s a neat parallel the first time someone draws it but after the 50th time, it all becomes rather tired. Like Kidman and Grace, you find yourself sighing, frowning and gazing into the distance. Oof.
Grace of Monaco is available to watch online on Amazon Prime Video as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
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