French director Oliver Dahan's Nicole Kidman
-starrer, Grace of Monaco
, which opened last month's Cannes Film Festival and hits Indian screens on Friday (June 13), was embroiled in one controversy after another.Direction: Oliver Dahan
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth, Frank Langella
Running Time: 103 minutes
First, it was the American distributor, Harvey Weinstein's decision to re-edit the version cut by Dahan. Weinstein is known to do this to suit the tastes of American audiences. Who preferred to see a version that was joyous and which said that American star Grace Kelly on whom the movie is based, was happy and content with her royal husband, Prince Rainier III, in Monaco. Dahan's edition was perhaps closer to truth, which is Grace's life in the palace was not quite hunky dory. Mercifully, Dahan and Weinstein buried their differences just before Cannes unrolled its Red Carpet on May 14. And we watched Dahan's rendering.Read Grace of Monaco gets unflattering reviews at Cannes
But if Dahan and Weinstein had breathed a sigh of relief, well, well well.. For Grace's children, Prince Albert II and Princesses Caroline and Stephanie, were not amused by the film. They felt that it did not accurately portray their mother's life.
However, Dahan and Kidman herself had made it clear that Grace of Monaco was merely inspired by the actress-turned-princess' life.
If all this was not enough, Grace of Monaco was panned by most Cannes critics - a view I did not share. A story about a leading American star of the 1950s who had worked with some of the top directors of the time, like Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford and Fred Zinnemann, Kelly gave up all the glitter and glamour to marry Rainier in 1956 and lead a royal and regal, but quieter life in the Palace of Monaco. She had met the Prince only a year earlier during the Cannes Festival, and what was supposed to have been photo shoot with him turned into a love story.
Dahan's Grace of Monaco begins in and more or less sticks to 1962, the year when the independent principality (within France and known for its rich and famous, its casinos and its motor racing) was threatened with annexation by General De Gaulle. France, under him, was bleeding from its colonial wars in Algeria, and was desperate for money. So, De Gaulle gave Monaco an ultimatum: tax your citizens and give that revenue to France or be prepared to be conquered. De Gaulle is shown as a monster who breathed fire into the phone, threatening to push Monaco back into the dark ages! Of course, Prince Rainier was in no mood to oblige De Gaulle, and this is where Kidman's Grace steps in to help her husband, Rainier, played by Roth.
All this may be fanciful fabrication, and the movie' plot includes a kind of Paris-sponsored palace coup aimed at overthrowing the Rainier regime, a much publicised visit to Monaco by Hitchcock himself with a very tempting film proposal for Kelly (Gracie, the world wants to see you) and finally a priest's sermon to the Princess saying that the greatest role she can play is that of Princess.
And Kelly is convinced, and Dahan's work tells us how she achieved this - which is of course farfetched. But, otherwise, I found Grace of Monaco riveting, and the performances of especially Kidman and Roth just wonderful. However, I would disagree with all those, including Dahan, who said that the movie was all about human emotions. That it was a love story. Sorry, Grace of Monaco is political, and its core interest lies in telling us about the struggle of the tiny principality against French onslaught.
Finally, if one were to see the film as a piece of fiction rather than a document of history, Grace of Monaco is a story well told, and engagingly so. It has breathtaking visuals and lovely people, and Dahan has an eye for detailing that makes his movie all the more arresting. Yes, Kelly's life was no fairy tale, and she died tragically in a 1982 car accident. We do see bits and pieces of her sorrow and suffering (Rainier was hot tempered, who even slaps a visiting envoy). But Dahan's creation has mostly to do with Kelly's grit to pull her kingdom out of the darkness it was slipping into. (Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered the Cannes Film Festival for 25 year, watched Grace of Monaco there, and he may be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org )