Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.
Alternate title: Princess Grace
France/USA/Belgium/Italy/Switzerland, 2014. Stone Angels, YRF Entertainment, Umedia, Lucky Red, TF1 Films Production, Canal+, Gaumont, Od Shots, Silver Reel, uFilm. Screenplay by Arash Amel. Cinematography by Eric Gautier. Produced by Arash Amel, Uday Chopra, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam. Music by Christopher Gunning. Production Design by Dan Weil. Costume Design by Gigi Lepage. Film Editing by Olivier Gajan.
The film’s opening disclaimer of being a fictional story based on factual events should mean that we get a similar experience to The Queen, a film that uses a real personality (in this case, movie star turned princess Grace Kelly) to investigate a broader theme. Sadly, this is not an intelligent examination of the tension between duty and desire but an easily watchable but dim-witted affair whose eventual fate of being sold to Lifetime Television as a movie of the week is more fitting than we care to admit. Nicole Kidman is stunning if miscast as the Academy Award winning star who is now five years into her reign as the Serene Highness of the tiny principality, and the film finds her at a crossroads of desires. Hitchcock has shown up at her palace with the offer of a return to films as the star of his forthcoming project Marnie, while her husband Prince Rainier (played by an even more miscast Tim Roth) has De Gaulle breathing down his neck, France’s war with Algeria mobilizing them to now want to absorb the city state which has historically resisted all who would invade. Princess Grace has still not learned all there is to know about her job, which we discover in bits thanks to the dour appearance of her severe lady in waiting (Parker Posey), and as time passes and her country’s fate looks more dire she begins to understand that it might not be possible for her to have any other career than as the wife of a monarch. The circumstances that the film’s story are based on have been re-arranged to suit dramatic need, such as the appearance of figures who in real life were no longer in the country’s court at the time and a subplot involving treason that actually happened at a different time, but such dramatic licence is furthest from what is the problem here. Director Olivier Dahan splashes bright colours across the screen, with ripe images such as an ineffective Paz Vega as Maria Callas lip-synching opera, or representing the Australian Madge Tivey-Faucon as Posey’s American version of Rebecca‘s Mrs. Danvers, as if he is making an expressionistic, almost campy exploration of the insane levels of fame that this woman’s life touched (from Philadelphia heiress to movie star to royalty is a lot for one life to take). Kidman driving dangerously around the winding roads of Monaco’s hills as a prefiguring of Kelly’s death also hints at a kind of tacky exploitation, but the narrative plays everything straight and severe and never seems to realize how poor a job it is doing of taking a serious story seriously (reports of producer Harvey Weinstein at war with Dahan over the final cut might have a lot to do with this). Then there’s the conclusion, where Kelly gives a speech at a Red Cross charity ball that is made the climax and focus of her legacy; I don’t know at press time if it’s based on a real speech that Kelly made, but whether she wrote it or screenwriter Arash Amel did does nothing to change the fact that it is a rambling, incomprehensible affair that even Kidman, who is generally exquisite at any length of dialogue, seems completely baffled by. Her appearance in the film is appropriate given that she is an actress of equal lustre and poise as Kelly was, but she has no physical or personal resemblance to her, which easily symbolizes the film’s confused position between artistic expression and cold biography.