Monday, June 16, 2014


Release date (India):
June 13, 2014
Olivier Dahan

Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella, Milo Ventimiglia

Grace of Monaco has enough palace intrigue and political machinations, sumptuous dresses and luscious scenery, twists, turns and spectacle to keep it engaging. The problem is that these elements are repeatedly overshadowed by the film’s effort to be a hagiography rather than a biography, and its greatly exaggerated notion of its heroine’s significance in world history. Unfortunate, because Olivier Dahan’s biopic of the film-star-turned-royal (co-produced by Bollywood major Yash Raj Films’ YRF Entertainment) is not without merit.

Imagine the media frenzy back in 1956 when a 27-year-old American beauty, a young Oscar winner with a handful of films in her CV, appeared to turn her back on it all to marry the ruler of the tiny principality of Monaco in Europe; when Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III to become Princess Grace of Monaco. It was dubbed “the wedding of the century”, the sort of event that people tend to describe as “the stuff that fairytales are made of”.

People forget the regressive, patriarchal connotations of that description though, and its unsuitability to Grace anyway. Fictional fairytales usually have a prince “rescuing” a princess from something or someone; his kiss and/or marriage to him being her salvation. Do all women need metaphorical “rescuing” by a man? More to the point, did Grace – a star in her own right and child of wealthy parents – need “rescuing”? The saving grace of those old fairytales has been that the storybook prince and princess always marry for love. From accounts of the lives of Grace and Rainier though, contradicted but then corroborated in passing in this film, their marriage was more of a practical arrangement at least from Rainier’s point of view.

Back to the film… Irritation sets in when we first encounter Nicole Kidman playing Grace. Kidman’s back is shown bidding farewell to colleagues on a film set in an elongated scene of slow motion set to an operatic background score. The melodramatic presentation returns when Grace feels a friend is abandoning her in Monaco; then again one evening as she meets her subjects before a royal banquet; and once again in a closing montage. These scenes along with numerous too-close close-ups of Kidman are clearly designed to heighten our sense of Grace’s stature. Whatever the makers of this film may think though, Grace Kelly is no Meryl Streep, Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa or Indira Gandhi in terms of achievement or her place in history. Despite the romantic aura around the “actress-turned-princess” label, she is at best an equivalent of Diana or Jackie Kennedy, though Monaco is neither Britain nor America.

The story of the film takes off when the legendary director Alfred Hitchcock drops in to visit Grace in Monaco and offer her the lead role in his film Marnie. It takes us from there to the controversy the offer generates among her subjects, Grace’s tense relationship with her dictatorial and workaholic husband, and her struggle to win over the press, all set against the backdrop of a tussle between Rainier (Tim Roth) and President Charles de Gaulle of France.

Some parts of the story are recorded in the media, some are private and we can never be sure of their authenticity (Grace and Rainier’s son, the current Prince, has officially lambasted this film for its unflattering depiction of his father). Whatever be the truth, Grace of Monaco is interesting when it is not wallowing in its own sense of self-importance, when instead it is narrating the story of a one-time career woman feeling suffocated in her new role as a glorified housewife, the struggles of a foreigner trying to fit in, and the politics of the palace. While Grace and Rainier are at loggerheads, the film works because it is easy to relate to her frustration. But the chemistry between Kidman and Roth is so cold, that when Rainier asks at one point, “Why are you still here Grace?” it’s hard to believe her answer: “Because we have children together. And because I still love you.” She loves him? Really? I didn’t feel that.

The one time the film’s soundtrack works is when the opera moves from the background to the foreground, in a banquet scene featuring a lovely live performance. Grace Of Monaco is also a visual delight at every level, from the heroine’s statuesque beauty to her wardrobe and the settings. Kidman as Grace is stunning to look at. She is too self-conscious in scenes where she’s asked to pose around, but in the rest of the film she does manage to draw us into her tense and troubled little world. Roth as Rainier is a bore.

Arash Amel’s script is clear in its perspective that Monaco is not the centre of the universe, and that its position as a sovereign city-state is tenuous. Amel’s mistake is that he allows Rainier’s clash with de Gaulle – over Monaco’s status as a haven for French tax evaders – to eclipse his clashes with his wife. Considering that it’s hardly an honourable cause, the film’s effort to ennoble Grace’s support for Rainier in this squabble is laughable.

If only Amel had remained focused on why the heck Grace and Rainier married, and why the heck she stuck around, this could have been a better film. I enjoyed those parts that portrayed Grace as a real woman like you and me. It’s intriguing to note that over half a century after this story is set, the same damned question is still being thrust in our faces: can a woman be a wife and mother, and have a career too? Now that is what this film should have been all about.

Rating (out of five): **

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
103 minutes

Poster courtesy: Yash Raj Films

1 comment:

  1. 'GRACE OF MONACO' was really a great movie to watched for.