I’ve probably said this about Lifetime biopics before: attacking them is like picking low-hanging fruit. As Lifetime becomes the de facto biopic factory, they’ve certainly injected an added air of quality to their work, as evidenced by their acquisition of Olivier Dahan’s Grace of Monaco. The Nicole Kidman-starring Grace Kelly-biopic has been riddled with production woes and its Lifetime “world premiere” is considered evidence of its lackluster quality….that’s not wrong. Despite some luxurious production design and Kidman trying her hardest, the already truncated presentation – set to be additional ruined with haphazardly placed commercial breaks – and woefully underwhelming story leave Grace of Monaco in an odd limbo; from a quality standpoint, it’s better than Liz & Dick, but there’s nothing particularly fun or watchable fueling it.
Five years after she left Hollywood to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco (Tim Roth), Grace Kelly (Kidman) is alienated by the country’s people and struggles to find her own identity amongst royal labels.
Grace of Monaco’s Lifetime premiere limply crosses the finish line after debuting at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, where it was the opening night feature. Unfortunately, director Dahan ran into trouble with Harvey Weinstein, founder of the Weinstein Company, who wanted to cut the film despite Dahan possessing final cut. Weinstein refused to release the film, where it was eventually scooped up by Lifetime. The original cut ran at 103 minutes, but the cut Lifetime airs will be 17-minutes shorter.
I’m not privy to what was cut, but it certainly feels like the movie’s been tampered with. The commercials breaks were seemingly decided by a blindfolded person pointing at the editing monitor and saying, “There’s where we’ll put a commercial.” Thus you get Derek Jacobi’s princess tutor character, Count Fernando D’Aillieres saying his name before the scene cuts to commercial. He’s introducing himself only to be cut off, an Oscar-winner played off the stage in order to get to an ad for Totino’s Pizza Rolls! Other scenes feel like they should be longer and are cut off in medias res, or are followed by other scenes completely at odds with what proceeded it. The first issue is Lifetime’s fault, while the rest is the fault of the original film editor. Lifetime could have at least found the natural conclusion points to insert their commercials. On a whole, the film has a jerky quality that, coupled with the wayward plot, leaves the narrative adrift in its own confusion.
Screenwriter Arash Amel similarly suffers from identifying anything particularly compelling about this time in Grace’s life. The overall idea is how the fairy tale was anything but; the overused trope of finding out what happens after “Happily ever after.” In this case, Amel treats everything with a similar sense of malaise. Rainier’s story is more intriguing as he navigates issues with the French who threaten to take Monaco for themselves, putting Grace’s story in the fluffy and romantic category.
The awareness that no one watching this movie cares about the politics is understood and segues into a “mystery” regarding a mole planning to sell Rainier out to the French. When Grace kicks the door in – metaphorically speaking, nothing that exciting happens – to reprimand the mole, it’s laughable. A woman who has yielded no power since then, musters up the courage to banish a person, and not just banish them but threaten their son? However, that sequence actually takes the cake for worst line delivery of all time. Rainier’s sister shouting, “She [Grace] will not tell me what to do” in a pitch only dogs can hear will wash the taste of Lohan’s “I’m so bored” right out of your mouth!
But this isn’t titled Prince Rainier of Monaco. And for good reason, as Tim Roth walks around looking as if he wished he could be anywhere else (or prepping for his role as George Wallace in Selma…the two are interchangable in terms of Roth’s look). Considering the likes of Jessica Chastain, Emily Blunt, and January Jones were all considered for the role of Grace Kelly, Nicole Kidman is good…had we filmed this several years ago. Kidman’s always held a passing resemblance to the star, she possesses the regal bearing the character requires, and she’s utterly lovely in the clothes even if, at several points throughout the film, she prances around like she’s filming a Dior commercial. It’s hard getting Kidman out of her own way, but there are bright moments, particularly when she’s acting opposite children or during the Princess Diaries-esque training montage where Grace learns about Monaco. (You’d think she’d have actually studied her country’s history earlier than five years into her marriage.)
Much of the historical context is predicated on the audiences’ past association, so if you know nothing about Grace Kelly you won’t find it easy understanding why a movie has been made about her. There’s a faint line about her being “vetted” for the position of Princess, but the script doesn’t want to imply the actress auditioned for the role of Rainier’s wife, even though there’s proof she did. Outside of that, the film focuses on Grace’s decision on whether or not to star in Alfred Hitchcock’s (an excellently cast Roger Ashton-Griffiths) Marnie. Kidman’s “rehearsal” of sequences from Marnie veers dangerously close to Lohan territory, but the brunt of the moral conundrum is through discussion, although it’s never adequately explained how Grace’s acceptance of the role would lead to “unrest” in the country since the people don’t care for her. I’m sure there’s a reason, it’s just never conveyed to the audience, one of countless elements left unresolved.
It’s sad that there isn’t enough exploration of Grace’s various personalities, that of royal, mother, actress, woman. We watch her struggle with the various royal protocols; she can’t bend to pick things up and is constantly watched by Parker Posey in cat’s eye glasses. Grace soon realizes, “I can’t be me.” This is true both in the character and in Kidman’s performance. Grace can’t be herself, but neither can Kidman, whose acting remains stilted and stiff. A poignant scene of Grace talking to her mother on the phone illustrates the issues in her life best. Her mother can’t carry on a normal conversation with her and refuses to answer her letters because “What would I have to say to the Princess of Monaco?” If only the film had explored Kelly’s continued inferiority, both in her acting and her personal life, rather than tack on a poor little rich girl motif. There’s also some underutilized points regarding Grace’s desire for a job, not just as an actress but a job outside the home, leading to martial discord. However, her and Roth are on-screen so infrequently it’s hard finding out when they were together to create two children, let alone declare how they love each other by the end.
“You’re not gonna drop a bomb on Princess Grace, are you?” It isn’t hard accomplishing that. Grace of Monaco is probably the classiest film that will air on the Lifetime network, but it’s dryer than kindling. Kidman makes the effort, but there’s nothing for her to grasp from an acting standpoint because the character lacks proper contextualization. Maybe the longer cut achieves this a bit better, but a more enhanced focus on Grace and her time in Monaco versus her time as an actress could have given audiences both the Hollywood fun with the fractured fairy tale that happened after.
Grace of Monaco airs this Sunday on the Lifetime Channel and hits Netflix Instant June 8th
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.