Long time readers of Oh! That Film Blog will remember the fateful day last September when I, for the love of film criticism, forced myself to endure the cinematic car crash that was 2013’s poorly judged and even more poorly received Diana. Nightmares of the utterly cringeworthy event are still had to this day, and just as I was beginning to get over it, it seems another Australian actress has decided to throw herself at the mercy of the critics and give us a loose biopic of another well known and well loved public figure, this time Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly. Everything I had heard about Grace Of Monaco had pointed me towards the conclusion of “don’t bother, not worth it, remember Diana“, but thanks to the little red devil on my shoulder that is oh so prone to masochism, I found myself, the only viewer in a three hundred seat theatre, ready to watch. It couldn’t be as bad, could it?
On the whole, I would have to say no, Grace Of Monaco is nowhere near as toe curlingly bad or groan inducingly awkward as Diana, but that does not stop it from being a very, very poor film. Doing the honours this time rather than Naomi Watts is Nicole Kidman as Hollywood icon Grace Kelly, or, should I say, a version of Grace Kelly. The narrative documents an extremely speculative period of years in which Grace’s marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco is portrayed to be in disarray and on the brink of dissolution, with her desire to return to the big screen for Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie and the pressure of continued threat on Monaco by Charles de Gaulle causing a great deal of unhappiness in her personal life. Though obviously centred around Grace Kelly, the plot, however, takes a rather bizarre turn and ends up being somewhat of a love letter to and justification for, of all things, the paradise of a tax free nation. Grace Kelly, one of the most enigmatic actresses of Hollywood’s golden age, is bizarrely depicted as the saviour of Monaco, giving a majestic speech that suddenly changes the heart of the ruthless de Gaulle and allows her adopted kingdom to continue to live in monetary haven. Whilst such a speech may well have occurred, I am absolutely sure it did not change the course of French military history, and choosing to focus a film about such an iconic figure on something as uninteresting as tax law is unforgivable and a waste of potentially interesting subject matter. In what is billed as a biopic, we learn very little about Grace Kelly other than the fact that she loved her children, something which I could have guessed without having to sit through a hundred minutes of overwhelmingly dull melodrama. And judging by the rumblings of displeasure from the family of the deceased actress, most of the details offered in the film are much more fiction that fact.
Whilst Naomi Watts clearly should have known better with Diana, it is slightly easier to imagine that, originally, Nicole Kidman may have thought she was on to a winner with Grace Of Monaco. The cast list is filled with respected names including Tim Roth, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, and Derek Jacobi, and in terms of narrative there are few Hollywood tales more intriguing than Kelly’s grand switch to royalty from humble beginnings in Philadelphia. Though Kidman certainly has something of the delicate essence that one associates with Grace Kelly, her efforts fall short of really capturing the audiences imagination and at times the performance feels rather mechanical. Unfortunately, Kidman’s turn is among one of the best in the film, with everybody else playing what seem like outlandish caricatures with big voices and an alarming lack of subtlety. Tim Roth plays Rainier as a bizarre British gentleman with an irritable personality, Roger Ashton-Griffith’s Alfred Hitchcock is frankly laughable and the sheer amount of impressionistic cameos from the likes of Robert Lindsay as Aristotle Onassis and Paz Vega as Maria Callas turn the film in to a disjointed and simply boring roll call of actors that can do impressions of historical figures to varying success. This is topped off with some of the most heavy handed and contrived dialogue you will hear all year, phrases like “Gracie, this is the biggest role you will ever play” with regards to her new royal persona evoke nothing but cynical groans and I found myself tutting and sighing on more than a handful of occasions.
Overall, Grace Of Monaco is a confused film, one that professes to be about the life of Grace Kelly but in actuality is a dull exploration of the morality of low taxes. It is a huge disappointment to people like myself who are endlessly interested in the trials and tribulations of Hollywood’s golden age stars, and the filmmakers have wasted a great opportunity to tell one of the most intriguing tales of them all with a high quality list of cast members. The misdirection of the plot combined with a rather too flexible taking of artistic license results in a tedious and at times completely unbelievable sequence of events. The film in its more forgiving moments certainly looks beautiful and is expertly shot, but technical proficiency is nowhere near enough to save Grace Of Monaco from being an absolute stinker. To be avoided at most costs, perhaps acceptable if heavily struck with flu on a wet and windy Sunday afternoon.