Before there was Princess Diana, there was Princess Grace of Monaco aka the Oscar-winning American actress of the 1950s, Grace Kelly.
While their life stories share some acute similarities, including their untimely deaths involving car accidents, Kelly’s has the backdrop of early Hollywood success before the fairy tale of meeting and marrying a real-life prince.
Grace of Monaco
The plot of Lifetime’s Grace of Monaco takes place in 1962, a few years after Kelly gave up her real life for marriage and motherhood, but is offered a chance to return to Hollywood for a big-budget film. Meanwhile her husband Prince Rainier faces the prospect of losing his principality to France because of a dispute over taxes in Monaco.
Yet, while based on actual events (as documented in French newspapers and the book My Days With Grace of Monaco) and with the Oscar-winning Nicole Kidman as Kelly plus the critically-acclaimed Frank Langella to add the star power, the film was panned by critics when it debuted at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2014.
Further problems ensued when film distributor The Weinstein Company postponed the film’s Oscar-season release, resulting in a reported feud between The Weinstein Company’s Harvey Weinstein and the film’s director, Olivier Dahan (director of La Vie en Rose).
“There are two versions of the film for now, mine and his … which I find catastrophic,” Dahan said at the time.
Whether the Lifetime version of the film is edited or unedited, the result appears unfinished, almost like an array of scenes somehow pulled together and with long blackouts in-between. Whether this is for artistic purposes is not known.
What is known is that Grace also was not well received by her children, Princess Caroline, Prince Albert and Princess Stephanie. The family issued a statement, “For us, this film does not constitute a biographical work but portrays only a part of her life, and has pointlessly glamorized and contains important historical inaccuracies as well as scenes of pure fiction.”
Mixing theorized fiction with fact seems to have been the purpose of Grace, which often shows an ethereal Kidman gliding around in an array of chic and glamorous Dior and Hermes costume changes that could have been out of any of her movies. The gauzy-lens close ups add to the film’s ethereal feel.
In the film, Grace receives a visit from Hitchcock about starring in Marnie (a role that later when to Tippi Hedren). She exerts her independence in deciding to do it, only to meet with the disapproval of her husband and her subjects, thus spurring her interest in truly putting her duties as monarch, wife and mother before her own.
“There are so many layers to this, when an actress is playing an actress,” says Kidman. “She was unique in that she was a major American movie star who won an Academy Award at a very early age and then said, “I’m actually going to leave it all because I want a marriage and a family.
“I think that’s a very strong thrust for many people – and not just women. If you are a creative person and have a passion, which Grace did, there is a pull,” she adds, referring to Kelly’s wish to return to acting.
However, this much ballyhooed plot development is so quickly remedied in the film. A few talks with Father Francis Tucker (Langella), a nervous palace publicist (played by Milo Ventimiglia), too many pushy press people and a dream-like sequence in which Father Francis enlists the talents of a royal etiquette expert to help her seem to be all that are needed to get her back in princess mode.
“You are the fairy tale, the serenity to which we all aspire, and peace will come when you embrace the roles you have been destined to play,” says Langella as Father Tucker.
Problem solved. Then we get a bit of Princess Grace: Super Sleuth as she leaves behind her angst to help Rainier (Tim Roth) fight French President Charles de Galle and his cohorts in the tax feud. Suddenly she’s finding notes that prove a conspiracy, helping palace spies with traitors while publicly air kissing friends and foes alike.
All this amid a backdrop of famous societal faces of the time including Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis and opera singer Maria Callas.
Callas and Onassis are reported to have had a long, torrid love affair that was only interrupted by his marriage to Jacqueline Kennedy. However, in this setting, all is still the future. Callas is played by upcoming Spanish actress Paz Vega.
Vega, a married mother of three got a thrill out of playing the fiery Callas. “I admire her as singer, of course, but her life is fantastic,” Vega told LA Confidential.com. “She represents the real Greek tragedy because she fell in love with the not-right person. And I love her because she’s so passionate and she always wanted to be perfect – the best singer, the best wife. She tried to be the best but she couldn’t at the end. It’s a beautiful story.”
Indeed the whole story of Grace Kelly the movie star marrying an Italian prince and then giving up her successful career to live happily ever after on a glamorous island with a Mediterranean climate, three happy children and her every whim attended to, is beautiful though not perfect. As those who knew her have said, the marriage had ups and downs and she spoke of missing acting in interviews.
So stories like hers will continue to be told, sometimes historically accurate, sometimes with artistic license.
At the height of the critical backlash from journalists and the family, Kidman had this to say: “I want them to know that the performance was done with love and if they see it, I think they’d see there’s an enormous amount of affection for their parents and for the love story of their parents.”
Grace of Monaco airs on Memorial Day May 25th on Lifetime 8 pm ET/PT