Shady place for sunny people

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews - David Strat­ton

FOL­LOW­ING on from The Queen and Diana,

the French-Ital­ian co-pro­duc­tion that opened the Cannes film fes­ti­val this month, of­fers a seem­ingly ir­re­sistible op­por­tu­nity to ex­pe­ri­ence vi­car­i­ously the pri­vate life of not only a royal per­son­age but also a mem­ber of Hol­ly­wood royalty. This, of course, is Grace Kelly, who be­came Princess Grace of Monaco when she mar­ried Prince Rainier III in 1956 af­ter en­coun­ter­ing him when she starred in To Catch a Thief for Al­fred Hitch­cock on the French Riviera.

This “fairy­tale” re­la­tion­ship, as Kelly her­self de­scribed it, could have made an in­ter­est­ing film on sev­eral lev­els, and al­though Ni­cole Kid­man doesn’t look at all like Kelly (in con­trast to Naomi Watts, who was con­vinc­ingly recog­nis­able as Princess Diana) the ac­tress is ac­com­plished enough to bring the role to life — that is, when she isn’t sad­dled with some ex­cru­ci­at­ingly bad di­a­logue. Less for­tu­nate is the cast­ing of Tim Roth as Rainier; Roth, too, is a fine ac­tor, but he seems un­in­ter­ested in the char­ac­ter he is play­ing here.

No won­der, re­ally, be­cause the fairy­tale has been trans­formed, by di­rec­tor Olivier Da­han (who made the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose) and screen­writer Arash Amel into a glossy soap opera. It might have been in­ter­est­ing to see a fic­tion­alised ver­sion of how the glam­orous daugh­ter of a Philadel­phia mil­lion­aire, re­port­edly with a string of fa­mous lovers left be­hind in Hol­ly­wood, ad­justed to her role as princess of the tiny coun­try whose chief claims to fame are a casino and a mo­tor race. No such in­sights are forth­com­ing, how­ever, in the film. In­stead we get a sort of who­dunit in which Grace turns de­tec­tive to dis­cover the traitor in the palace.

The treach­ery cen­tres on a 1961-62 diplo­matic dis­agree­ment with Monaco’s neigh­bour, Grace of Monaco (PG) Na­tional re­lease from Thurs­day Un­der the Skin (MA15+) Limited re­lease France, and its pres­i­dent, Charles de Gaulle. Though the de­tails re­main murky for the unini­ti­ated film­goer, it ap­pears to hinge on taxes that de Gaulle de­mands the people of Monaco pay to France and Rainier’s re­fusal to ac­cept this de­mand. As a re­sult, France cuts the roads leading into the prin­ci­pal­ity and there is even talk of a French in­va­sion.

Ac­cord­ing to the film, this was all partly trig­gered by the pres­ence of a Hol­ly­wood star in the Grimaldi palace, es­pe­cially when it was (cor­rectly) ru­moured that Grace was con­sid­er­ing an of­fer from her favourite di­rec­tor, Hitch­cock, with whom she had made three clas­sic movies, to re­turn to the screen in his pro­jected thriller Marnie (in­ter­est­ingly, Roger Ash­tonGrif­fiths plays Hitch with far more con­vic­tion than Anthony Hop­kins brought to the role in 2012’s Hitch­cock). Bored with life at the palace and tempted by what she sees as a ma­jor act­ing chal­lenge, Grace is ea­ger to ac­cept Hitch­cock’s of­fer, and al­though Rainier is mod­er­ately sup­port­ive his con­cern about the pub­lic­ity in­volved comes to a head when the news is pre­ma­turely leaked (by the traitor in the palace) and pub­lic opin­ion in Monaco against Grace be­comes a po­lit­i­cal li­a­bil­ity.

This may have hap­pened just as it’s pre­sented here, but it doesn’t for a mo­ment con­vince. With Parker Posey, who plays Grace’s lady-in­wait­ing and the chief sus­pect, chan­nelling Ju­dith An­der­son as Mrs Dan­vers in Hitch­cock’s Re­becca, the op­por­tu­ni­ties for melo­drama are barely kept in check. Mean­while Grace has long (bor­ing) con­ver­sa­tions with her con­fes­sor, an Amer­i­can priest (Frank Lan­gella), Rainier’s sis­ter An­toinette (Geral­dine Somerville) glow­ers, Maria Cal­las (Paz Vega) sings, Aris­to­tle Onas­sis (Robert Lind­say) of­fers ad­vice and Count Fer­nando (Derek Ja­cobi) gives Grace a quick course in Monaco eti­quette and French ac­cents.

There are mo­ments when all this veers to­wards the so-bad-it’s-good di­rec­tion, but it never quite gets there. An op­por­tu­nity to tell an in­ter­est­ing story about the Hol­ly­wood star’s fairy­tale life has been largely missed, but Kid­man’s key speech in the lat­ter stages gives the ac­tress a much-needed op­por­tu­nity to bring emo­tion and mean­ing to her char­ac­ter.

Apart from the open­ing home movie-like footage taken from a car driv­ing at high speed along a windy moun­tain road, no ref­er­ence is made to Kelly’s tragic death in 1982. KID­MAN gave a mem­o­rable per­for­mance in Jonathan Glazer’s sec­ond fea­ture, Birth (2004), which fol­lowed his de­but, Sexy Beast, made four years ear­lier. That ti­tle could also be ap­plied to Glazer’s third fea­ture,

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