Grace Under Pressure
Grace Kelly, for the benefit of younger readers, isn’t just a song by Mika, but also a Hollywood icon who left it all behind to marry Monaco’s Prince Rainier III, subsequently becoming a kept princess. For an undesirable stratum of young women, Kelly’s legacy, being a star, beauty icon and royalty, meant that, uniquely in the echelons of female kind, she achieved the triple. But in keeping with the glossy magazine culture she courted on all fronts, there’s always been a ghoulish interest in her private life, not least the suggestion that Rainier, the man who stole Kelly from the world at the peak of her career, brutally suppressed the Princess’s yearning to make a comeback. If Princess Diana’s unhappiness at the hands of a callous husband and controlling establishment is better known, and an essential part of the myth that makes it possible for millions of women to relate to a pampered millionairess with a perfect body, then it’s a strategy that can be adapted to generate interest in Grace Kelly’s barren period with little adjustment.
Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco attempts to do just that and it’s not ashamed to wear its credentials as the movie equivalent as a puff piece in an upmarket women’s magazine on its sleeve, naturally accessorised with accoutrements from a designer jeweller. Monaco’s royal family have cried foul, outraged at the suggestion that Rainier was a capricious shit and domineering autocrat who made everyone’s favourite Hitchcock blonde miserable. Were I them I wouldn’t worry; it’s unlikely that any Kelly biographer or historian investigating the Monaco royal family is going to take much notice of Dahan’s tabloid treatment: a biopic that weirdly confesses to being made up from the outset, (“A fictional account inspired by real events”, or fiction for short) filmed like a feature length perfume commercial; all soft focus, restless camera and sparkling, decadent backdrops, written with a tin ear for the cadence and content of real life.
Perhaps experimentally, Arash Amel’s screenplay jettisons character-building dialogue and opts instead for a mixture of players describing their story function or providing a lengthy piece of exposition. Rarely does Amel deviate from this pattern and consequently you’re never in any doubt as who’s related to whom, how long they’ve known each other, what they’re feeling, what their motivation is, and what’s at stake. The advantage of this approach is that it builds a movie that can be clearly understood by everyone, regardless of intelligence or degree of consciousness; the disadvantage is that it strips the narrative of those antiquated tools once used to stoke audience interest – ambiguity, allusion, intrigue, psychological realism, ornate lines, emotional intensity and surprise.
Considering Nicole Kidman’s fifteen years older than Kelly at the time of her depiction, she does a reasonable job anchoring the film. Okay, she doesn’t look much like Grace and Dahan’s extreme close ups don’t help, soft focus or no, but her performance captures something of the vulnerability and eloquence that made so many men, including that old pervert Hitchcock, fall in love with the actress. Unfortunately any further attempt at nuance would have been futile in a film this unashamedly melodramatic, a fact that defeats Kidman in a clutch of scenes that leave her horribly exposed.
Add to all the tears and tiaras a movie that lays on its themes, like its makeup, with a trowel – the princess playing the greatest role of her life, family duty above all else and, er, grace under pressure – and you’ve got a film the real Kelly wouldn’t have touched with Hitch’s. How she’d have felt about her screen presence being extended like this, given the way her career ended, is another question altogether and one it’s perhaps best not to think too much about.