Sufferers of PTSD (Perennial Terror Of Seeing Diana) should note that Olivier Dahan’s ritzy but risible royal melodrama could well be its chic, equally inept Continental cousin. Prettily presented, gossamer-thin stuff, this biopic treats Grace Kelly’s transformation from Hollywood homesick housewife to Monaco icon as a sickly, bejewelled morality tale.
Trapped by a critical husband, stifling etiquette, and an enemy-packed palace, Nicole Kidman’s naive Grace is set up clumsily as a Hitchcock-style damsel in distress. What with Parker Posey’s scowling lady-in-waiting eavesdropping and plotting like Mrs Danvers, it’s practically Rebecca on the Riviera. Perennially anguished, torn between her family obligations and the lure of playing Marnie at Hitch’s urging, Kidman’s sad, stately portrayal of Grace is brittle with anxiety. Incongruously vast close-ups of her suffering face anoint her the Madonna of Monte Carlo, her upper lip stiff in defence of marriage and Monaco.
Giving off starry wattage nonetheless, she’s surrounded by uneasy performances: Tim Roth’s tight-lipped Prince Rainier and Robert Lindsay’s shouty Aristotle Onassis twitch and fidget against a backdrop of France’s 1962 attempt to grab Monaco and its tax-free bounty. Much of the film’s unintentional hilarity stems from this awkward hodge-podge of history and royal soap opera, with dialogue full of arch banalities (“Colonialism is so last century”). Only Frank Langella’s fatherly priest, supervising a My Fair Lady-style princess makeover (“The greatest role of your life, Gracie”) looks remotely convincing.
While director Dahan’s overwrought diva-in-distress formula worked for Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose (which earned Marion Cotillard an Oscar), here his main achievement is to make Princess Grace seem terminally tremulous. Throw in a spot of selfless kingdom-saving, as seen in The King’s Speech, and an Elizabeth-style iconic transformation (“I am Monaco”) and the final result isn’t a rich, revelatory fairytale. It’s a right royal farce.
More high camp than High Society, Dahan’s hilariously ham-fisted biopic seeks high-stakes operatic thrills, but provides shrill melodramatic spills.