'Grace of Monaco' gets a thumbs up at Cannes
Cannes, May 24
IF I were being really stingy about awarding marks, I would give Grace of Monaco 8 out of 10. After all the negative propaganda about the film, when I did watch it a few days ago at Cannes, where it opened the 67th festival, I was surprised by just how much I liked the movie. So did most other Indians. For example, two thirds of the way through, I turned to another Indian journalist in Salle Debussy and said something like: “This is a very good movie.... Not bad at all,” he responded, which from him was high praise.
FULL OF GRACE: A still from the film 'Grace of Monaco'
The film is worth examining in some detail because from the Indian point of view it is a landmark movie: it was funded substantially by Yash Raj Films as the first of its new foreign ventures from its LA office and also because it will get quite a big release in India in mid-June. This is ambitious but attempts are also being made to encourage Nicole Kidman to come to India to promote the film and her starring role. To me, it certainly seems she has distilled and caught the essence of Princess Grace. Having access to Dior and Cartier certainly helped but from the Monaco royal family, there was only non-cooperation because of the film’s fictionalised aspects.
FRENCH FEEL: The beautiful country of Monaco flanked by the Mediterranean Sea
The film is not a biopic but deals with the events of 1962 when the Hollywood actress Grace Kelly had been married to Prince Rainier for six years and was the mother of two children, Princess Caroline and Prince Albert. A much bigger political crisis was brewing because President Charles de Gaulle of France was threatening to annex the little but fiercely independent principality of Monaco. So what is the country like today? A day before the film opened I took the train from Cannes for the hour-long journey to Monaco which was preparing for the Grand Prix. The palace itself is built high on a rock which took a good 30 minutes to climb. To a pavement lamp post near the palace was attached an evocative black and white portrait of Prince Rainier and Princess on their wedding day on April 19, 1956. In a cafe, there was a fading portrait of Princess Grace but other than that Monaco seems to have moved on.
REAL DEAL: Grace Kelly is seen with her husband Prince Rainier III in this desk calendar picture
In the reaction to the movie, there appears to be an east-west split. It could be that Indians, brought up on Bollywood blockbusters, prefer “enjoyable” movies that have melodrama, romance and the triumph of good over evil whereas many western critics think meaningful cinema should leave the audience intellectually drained. Miserable is better than happy.
ON SCREEN: Nicole Kidman steps into the shoes of Grace Kelly
This is a personal opinion, to be sure, but quite often at Cannes, which is covered by 4,000-5,000 journalists from all over the world, there is a temptation on the part of some critics to draw attention to themselves — “look at me” — by being first off the mark with an extreme judgement, usually in damning a movie. As far as old hands could recall, this was the first time there has been Indian involvement in an opening film at Cannes. After journalists were the first to be shown Grace of Monaco at 10 am — well ahead of the red carpet gala screening that same evening — there was a press conference attended by Nicole Kidman; the French director, Olivier Dahan; the English actor Tim Roth, who has been cast as Prince Rainier; and Uday Chopra of Yash Raj Films. When I heard some critics had savaged the film, I did wonder whether they had watched the same movie as me.
SUNNY SMILES: Uday Chopra, (r) co-producer of Grace of Monaco, at the Cannes Film Festival
Writing for The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw said: “The cringe-factor is ionospherically high. A fleet of ambulances may have to be stationed outside the Palais to take tuxed audiences to hospital afterwards to have their toes uncurled under general anaesthetic.” The Daily Telegraph commented: “By the end of the first scene [critics] had started curling up, like startled armadillos, into tight little balls of embarrassment.” At the press conference, the majority of the questions were for Kidman and Dahan, but there was one for Uday Chopra — from me. How did he find the film and why had he backed it? His reply was admirably succinct: Chopra, who is based for part of the year in Los Angeles, looking for suitable projects, had heard of the script. He “chased it down”, read it, was convinced by the story and decided to invest.
There was an element of fate which had determined the twists and turns in the life of Grace Kelly, he said. Fate eventually resolved the problems in her marriage and also the difficulties that had arisen in relations between Monaco and big brother France. “We Indians believe in fate,” commented Chopra.
The script is the work of an Iranian, Arash Amel, who grew up in Wales. The idea came to him while watching the Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding on April 29, 2011. Kate reminded him of Princess Diana. And thinking of Diana, he was reminded of Grace Kelly. He then discovered that no one had actually done a movie on the Hollywood star who married a prince. After much research, the first draft of his script was written in six weeks. But Princess Grace’s moving final speech at the Red Cross Ball, which won the day for “little Monaco”, “required 25 drafts”.
The version of the movie that will be shown in India will be the cut made by Dahan. As once feared, there won’t be a separate cut by the US producer Harvey Weinstein — if he does make any alterations, it will be with the agreement of the French director, Amel clarified. It has been reported that Weinstein will pay Yash Raj Films $ 3 million instead of the $ 5 million that had initially been agreed. On learning that the film had not gone down well with the Monaco royal family, Geneva-based businessman Prakash Hinduja offered his services as Kissinger-type peacemaker. “Had I known you were making this movie, I would got you all the facilities — I know the royal family very well,” he told Amel.
Most of us were impressed by Nicole Kidman who has the gift of being able to answer questions simply and eloquently. She said she spent five months studying footage of Princess Grace, although she had not wanted to “mimic” her subject. Born in Philadelphia on November 12, 1929, Grace Kelly embarked on an acting career in 1950 at the age of 20. She met Rainier at the Cannes Film Festival in 1955, agreed to marry him after a speedy romance and returned in an ocean liner the following year for the wedding. Old footage of her arrival on the SS Constitution has been worked into the movie which is described as a work of fiction “based on real events”.
Thus, Grace Kelly was transformed by marriage into the Royal House of Grimaldi, into Her Serene Highness Princess Grace of Monaco. She had been Alfred Hitchcock’s favourite actress, having starred in 1954 in Dial M for Murder and Rear Window (which Kidman confessed was the one she liked best). In the western classic High Noon, she was cast opposite Gary Cooper, and for The Country Girl in 1954, she had received an Oscar.
Could she leave Hollywood behind without a regret when she married Rainier? In 1962, Hitchcock offers her the lead role in a new movie, Marnie — plus a fee of a million dollars. She was sorely tempted but because her husband and the people of Monaco disapproved, she unhappily had to turn down the part. There is an entertaining section in the film which shows Hitchcock arriving at the palace in Monaco with the script of Marnie. He is coached by a female courtier on how to bow to the Princess and address her correctly. Of course, all that stiff protocol is dispensed with as she calls him “Hitch” and he addresses her as “Gracie”. In real life Hitchcock didn’t come to Monaco, but the two did speak on the phone.
The Monaco royal family has issued a statement distancing itself from the film, partly because of the fictionalised aspects of the tale. I had a similar explanation from Patrick Medecin, Monaco’s ambassador to India (who lives at home but periodically travels to India). In real life, there was no Red Cross Ball organised by Princess Grace and attended by President Charles de Gaulle. He changed his mind about annexing Monaco after hearing her impassioned plea in support of the principality’s traditional independence from France.
However, the political role attributed to Princess Grace in the movie is apparently fictional. Prince Albert and his sisters, Caroline and Stephanie, have dismissed the film as “pointlessly glamourised” and an inaccurate work of “pure fiction”.
Kidman said she was sure that Rainier and Princess Grace loved each other and that he was left devastated when she was killed in a car crash in 1982. She was conciliatory in talking about the children. “I know they’re upset. I would be, too, if it were my mother,” she said. “I can’t say much other than that I have great respect and regard for their mother. I certainly did my best to honour everything that was real and truthful in it….There’s a fairy-tale aspect to it, which is why it isn’t a biopic.” Kidman’s best answer came when she was asked if she would give up her acting career for love? “I have never had to,” she replied without a moment’s hesitation. “Without question. I would not think twice about it. Love is the core emotion.”
At a seminar at the India pavilion later, Chopra admitted that walking the red carpet alongside Kidman “was surreal for me.” When it was suggested that the film has almost an Indian feel, Chopra nodded: “Perhaps that’s why I loved the script.” His instinct is that “Indian audiences will react very positively to it”. Of course, he would say that, but on this occasion he is probably right.