Nicole Kidman cut a royally glamorous figure at the first night of the Cannes Film Festival, even if her film Grace of Monaco has been generally eviscerated by critics.
Her dignified style evoked that of the woman she plays in Grace of Monaco, the film chosen to open the festival.
But even those diamonds – or, for that matter, the brilliant blue of her heavily encrusted Armani evening dress – could not bring a bright enough sparkle to overcome the deluge of gloomy reviews, which described Grace of Monaco as “middlebrow mush” (the Hollywood Reporter), “fantastically silly” (The Telegraph) and “a schmaltzy, soft-focus rear-end to last year’s car crash biopic Diana” (Screen International).
Some critics regarded Kidman as a saving grace; others not. “Kidman’s breathless, blank performance does little to add life or credibility to a script that, looking on the bright side, might have audiences giggling for years to come,” said Time Out.
Fairfax Media reviewer Paul Byrnes suggested “lovers of 1950’s-style melodrama could swoon, but it’s a costume drama without much drama”.
Earlier in the day, Kidman told the press she felt there were parallels between her own life and that of Grace Kelly, who left her Hollywood career behind to marry Prince Rainer III of Monaco in 1956.
“There are so many layers to this, when an actress is playing an actress,” she said. “Obviously I did not marry a prince.” She corrected herself, no doubt remembering hearth and home with singer Keith Urban in Nashville. “Well, I am married to a prince – a country prince!”
Grace of Monaco gives a fictional interpretation of a few months in 1962, when the royal marriage appears to have faltered, the princess is considering an offer from Alfred Hitchcock of a starring role in his new film and French president General de Gaulle was trying to subsume Monaco into its financial system, thus destroying its lucrative tax haven status. It was made by Olivier Dahan, the French director who had an international hit with the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose.
Like Kidman, Grace Kelly was renowned for her cool beauty as well as her talent; she is best known now for the three films she made with suspense master Alfred Hitchcock.
“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’,” said Kidman. “I think that’s a very strong thrust for many people – and not just women.”
She had never had to make that choice herself. “But I wouldn’t even think twice about it,” she said. “I would hope there are some other things I could do… But I think love is the core emotion. I have certainly existed without that in my life.”
She said she felt her greatest professional highs had coincided with personal lows. “When I won the Oscar (for The Hours, 2002) I said I wanted love, but I didn’t have that in my life. That was the most intensely lonely period in my life. ”
Leaving a career behind would not be easy, however. “If you are a creative person and have a passion, which Grace did, there is a pull,” Kidman said.
The film begins with Hitchcock asking Princess Grace to come back to the cinema after six years’ absence to star in Marnie, a part that ultimately went to Tippi Hedren. Olivier Dahan shows her practising the lines in front of the mirror, giving them wildly different inflections.
“I thought that was great, because I’ve done that,” said Kidman. “Where you go: oh my gosh, can I still act? Can I still say a line? I’m terrible!”
The Grimaldi royal family has distanced itself from the film, describing the script as “a farce”, and refused to attend the festival’s opening night gala. “Obviously I feel sad,” said Kidman, “because I think the film has no malice towards the family or towards Grace and Rainer. But I understand that it is their mother and father and I understand the protection of the privacy of their parents.
“It’s awkward, but I say that with respect and I want them to know the performance was done with love.”
A different argument about the film has raged across the Atlantic with US distributor Harvey Weinstein, who declared the French director Olivier Dahan’s film “too dark” and did a succession of new edits which scored badly with test audiences.
He was threatening to drop it altogether, but an announcement came through on the Weinstein had reached an 11th-hour agreement with the film’s producers. “If any changes need to be made, we will make them together,” said Olivier Dahan in the film’s press conference. “We work very well together and I am happy with the result.”
Grace of Monaco is not part of the Cannes Film Festival competition. That begins on Thursday morning with the first screening of Mr Turner by British director Mike Leigh last won the Palme D’Or, the festival’s top award, for his film Secrets and Lies in 1996.
The festival will run for 11 days, with the awards to be announced in another grand gala on Saturday week. No Australian films are competing for the top prize but three – David Michod’s The Rover, Rolf de Heer’s Charlie’s Country and Zak Hilditch’s These Final Hours – are screening in other festival sections.