The announcement this morning that Harvey Weinstein had negotiated himself a better deal on the US distribution rights for "Grace Of Monaco" (by $2-3m, according to Variety) must have been bittersweet for the film's producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogom, director Olivier Dahan and star Nicole Kidman. At least the embarrassment of a total TWC pullout has been thwarted but there's still a shadow over this troubled and contentious production on the eve of its red-carpet premiere in Cannes. Having already lacerated the script last year, despite allowing Dahan to shoot in the principality, Princess Grace's children fired another salvo last week, declaring that "the princely family does not in any way wish to be associated with this film, which reflects no reality".
It's no surprise to see Dahan's opening title label the film a "fictional" take "based on real events". With rumblings out of London from critics who'd already seen the film that "Grace Of Monaco" was a dud to rival "Diana", this morning's press screening revealed that assessment to be unduly harsh but also confirmed that in no way will it be the Oscar bait Weinstein was no doubt hoping for when he first boarded the project, lured by Dahan's seeming talent with biopics as evidenced by "La Vie En Rose", Kidman's star power and an iconic figure whose transition from movie star to princess still exerts a powerful hold on popular imagination.
This morning's press-screening reaction was muted to say the least. There were a few wolf whistles at the end, and laughter frequently erupted during some awkward and unnatural dialogue (the actor playing Hitchcock is particularly hard done by: every time he opens his mouth another clunker aiming to be a bon mot tumbles out). Take it as read that Dahan's Grace of Monaco is his own fantasy vision of the character, fuelled by his fascination with actresses in general, including Kidman, and the similarities he saw between Kelly's royal life in a gilded cage and the one Kidman led during her marriage to Tom Cruise.
As he told me a few weeks ago on the phone, for Dahan "Grace Of Monaco" is as much a study of Kidman as it is of Grace herself, although that's unlikely to console the irate Grimaldis. But having listened to Dahan explain the themes he wanted to explore - namely, whether an artist can ever truly give up being one - it's disappointing to see that aspect get short shrift in the final film, which focuses too much on the dry political battle between Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) and French president Charles De Gaulle over Monaco's role as a corporate tax haven. Dahan even uses the escalating crisis to resolve the narrative's crossroads-of-life conceit, with Grace gaining confidence by serving her chain-smoking husband and his vulnerable principality, using her charms to throw De Gaulle's bloodhound off Rainier's scent.
It's a strange choice, given that the film depicts their union as stifling and possibly loveless for the most part, before sending cupid arrows flying in the final stretch. Weinstein is known to have wanted more about Grace's time in Hollywood and the romantic backdrop to her becoming a princess, and it's true that what sequences there are in Dahan's film do tantalise and leave you wanting more. There are some strong moments in the film, including a strained phone call Grace makes to her mother back in Philadelphia and scenes featuring Frank Langella as Rainier's spiritual advisor.