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Thursday 14 December 2017

Fall from Grace: the moguls at war over Kelly biopic

The battle rages on between the French director and Hollywood's most ruthless producer over portrayal of silver screen.

Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly
Jennifer Garner and Harvey Weinstein
Olivier Dahan
Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly
Gary Cooper
Grace Kelly

Paul Whitington

Olivier Dahan is not the first filmmaker to have fallen out with Harvey Weinstein, but the French director has certainly done it in style. Monsieur Dahan, who won an Oscar in 2007 for his superb biopic of Edith Piaf, La Vie en Rose, has just finished an ambitious drama based on the life of Princess Grace.

Grace of Monaco stars Nicole Kidman as Grace Kelly, and will focus on the star's crucial intervention in a 1962 row between France and Monaco over the principality's tax-haven status that was threatening to turn exceedingly ugly.

Shooting was actually completed more than a year ago, and Grace of Monaco was originally due to be released in time for this year's Oscars, but co-producer Harvey Weinstein had other ideas.

First he bumped the film from its November 2013 release date because "a long list of things weren't ready".

He then cancelled its March release, and Olivier Dahan was horrified when he discovered Mr Weinstein was actually re-cutting his film.

"A pile of shit," was how Dahan succinctly described Weinstein's tinkering.

"There are now two versions of the film – mine and his – which I find catastrophic." Dahan added defiantly that "it's not over yet – I haven't given up," but it's difficult to imagine a less auspicious opening scenario.

Weinstein, who's affectionately referred to in the business as 'Harvey Scissorhands', has plenty of form in this regard, and as we go to press there are rumours he now plans to drop the film from his American distribution schedules altogether.

It will open this year's Cannes Film Festival next week, and is due for release here in June.

But Mr Weinstein's machinations may not be Grace Of Monaco's only problem, because the casting of Nicole Kidman in the lead role has raised eyebrows

in some quarters. The fact that at 46, the Australian actress is 14 years older than Grace Kelly was in the year the film is set doesn't help, but the incongruities run deeper than that.

Striking she may be, but Nicole Kidman is not exactly graceful. At almost six foot, she's always been stately rather than charming, and in recent years her face has acquired that curiously frozen look that suggests the attentions of surgeons.

Grace Kelly, on the other hand, was possibly the most natural beauty Hollywood ever produced.

Slim and blonde and blindingly pretty, she overcame parental disapproval and onscreen stiffness to become one of the biggest female stars of the 1950s before giving it all up to marry a prince and move to the south of France.

As Olivier Dahan's film makes clear, her life in Monaco was no fairytale: she missed acting, and struggled with her husband's traditionalism and the demands of her new role.

But as always, Grace rose to the challenge with aplomb, and carried herself with the quiet dignity that would be her trademark throughout her life.

Grace Patricia Kelly was born in Philadelphia in 1929, to a German-American mother and a father, Jack, who was 100pc Irish.

A former Olympic rowing champion, Jack Kelly was fiercely proud of his Mayo roots, and had pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become one of Philadelphia's most successful building contractors.

Young Grace inherited her father's ambition, steely determination and pride in being Irish, and she later visited Ireland several times, even buying land in Mayo with the intention of building a holiday home. Jack had high hopes for Grace, but was horrified when she announced her intention to become an actress.

Acting, he huffed, was "a slim cut above streetwalking", but Grace didn't pay him a blind bit of notice.

After studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, she began picking up stage and TV roles.

Her Hollywood debut in a 1951 drama called Fourteen Hours went largely unnoticed, but Kelly was spotted on set by a visiting Gary Cooper, who was instantly taken and said Grace was "different from all these other actresses we've been seeing so much of".

It was just the stroke of luck Grace needed. The following year she was cast as Cooper's Quaker wife in Fred Zinnemann's classic western High Noon. She said little and spent most of her time looking offended, but was a perfect, pert and graceful foil to Cooper's square-jawed frontier lawman.

"Breeding, quality and class," was how the great John Ford summed up Kelly's appeal, and in 1953 he took the risk of casting her opposite Clark Gable and Ava Gardner in his big budget romantic drama Mogambo.

Kelly played a bored wife who falls for the charms of Gable's gruff big game hunter, and more than held her own against him, the glamorous Gardner and the notoriously taciturn Ford.

Her performance won her a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination, and all of a sudden, Gracie was a star.

She also turned the head of Clark Gable, and the two are rumoured to have enjoyed an on-set affair despite the fact that he was at least twice her age. Though Kelly tended to play prim and proper girls, the private Grace was very different. She was a sexually active woman whose free spirit would have been more at home in the late 1960s than the starchy 50s.

During her brief film career Kelly was linked in gossip to most of her co-stars, including Gable, Gary Cooper, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and William Holden, and Ray Milland almost left his wife of 30 years after becoming besotted with her.

Grace did what she wanted, but always maintained a dignified silence about her private life.

Though she won her only Oscar for her performance as a bitter, unhappily married women in George Seaton's drama The Country Girl (1954), Kelly did her best work with Alfred Hitchcock. She worked with him three times, on Rear Window (1954), Dial M for Murder (1954) and To Catch a Thief (1955).

Hitch adored her, and while she wouldn't put up with any of his obsessive nonsense, she had a lot of time for him too. "Mr Hitchcock," she once said, "taught me everything about cinema. It was thanks to him that I understood that murder scenes should be shot like love scenes, and love scenes like murder scenes."

It was while working with Hitch and Cary Grant on To Catch a Thief in the south of France that she first met Prince Albert of Monaco. Her wedding to him was one of the most glamorous events of the 20th century, and thereafter she played the role of Monaco's Princess to perfection.

She was tempted by the prospect of working with Hitchcock again on his 1962 psychological thriller Marnie, but her husband vetoed the idea of her playing a kleptomaniac, or demeaning the Grimaldi dynasty by acting in anything at all.

Grace Kelly never acted again, and was just 52 years old when she lost control of her car while driving along La Corniche near Monaco and plunged to her death.

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