Nicole Kidman. Picture: David Koskas

Grace of Monaco (PG)
2 stars
Nicole Kidman, Tim Roth

Midway through Grace of Monaco, which recreates several crucial weeks in the life of the Oscar winner who abandoned a flourishing Hollywood career to marry into European royalty, the princess' mother tells her over the phone from Philadelphia: "You're not an actress any more."

After watching Nicole Kidman's excruciatingly inept performance as the star-turned-sovereign, I began to wonder if Mrs Kelly was actually referring to the woman playing her daughter, who has now become such a self-conscious, single-note actress, it's high time she thought about leaving the profession.

Kidman has the regal bearing, convinces as a woman in her early 30s (Princess Grace's age during the period covered by the film) and even manages a reasonably good French accent in those scenes in which her character sets out to win over Monaco's high-society matrons.

However, Kidman has become such an amateurish, one-dimensional performer who has taken to channelling the girly, breathy speaking style of Marilyn Monroe - it was once comic mode but now she does it in dramas - that a canny director would be reluctant to cast her in a school play.

The decline of Kidman, who was once justly acclaimed and a well-deserved Oscar winner, is doubly damaging for Grace of Monaco because she's playing an actress who must take on the biggest role of her life, as her greatest director and mentor Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) tells her.

The idea of the actress giving a performance for the good of Monaco during a period of political crisis is interesting. The problem is that Kidman cannot shift gears, she cannot suggest she is putting on a show the way, for instance, Cate Blanchett does in Blue Jasmine.

Most revealing is an unintentionally funny sequence when the man charged with turning Grace into a proper princess (Derek Jacobi) holds up a series of cards for her to project various emotions and yet every one of them looks the same.

Some of the critics who savaged Grace of Monaco when it opened the Cannes Film Festival last month let Kidman off the hook and suggested she survived the fiasco with her dignity intact. I beg to differ. It's Kidman's inability to bring dramatic weight to her performance that makes Grace of Monaco come off like a cheesy 1980s telemovie.

Director Olivier Dahan (La Vie en Rose) and his writer Arash Amel have come up with a pretty decent idea of centring the film on several turbulent months in 1963 when French president Charles de Gaulle was threatening to take away Monaco's independence because too many French citizens were taking advantage of the country's zero-tax policy.

According to the movie, which the filmmakers admit is "a fairytale" (that is, a mixture of fact and fiction), Princess Grace sacrificed a huge opportunity to once again work with Hitchcock on Marnie and a Hollywood career in order to embrace fully her role as the wife of Prince Rainier (Tim Roth) at a time when the country's sovereignty was being challenged.

In other words, Grace of Monaco is not a fully fledged biopic but, like The Queen and The King's Speech, deals with a moment of crisis that takes us to the essence of the personalities involved as well as recreate a fascinating piece of history (in this case with plenty of liberties).

Saving a privileged enclave that harbours tax exiles is never going to compare with rousing the people of Britain during World War II, as King George VI did in The King's Speech, but Dahan could have intermingled the personal and the political in such a way that we would feel for the young princess as she adapted to her role.

However, nothing gels because of the wayward direction, with the film wobbling badly between a sleek homage to the Master of Suspense, replete with a shot of Grace wearing Kim Novak's famous swirly bun in Vertigo, and a kooky, arty docu-drama, including scenes when Dahan's camera moves so close to Kidman's face it looks more like a surgeon looking through a magnifying glass during her latest round of facial improvements.

As terrible as much of the filmmaking is, Grace of Monaco might have survived if Kidman was not interchangeable with her waxen double in Madame Tussauds; if she could breathe life into Princess Grace to capture the struggle of an actress to learn a new part and take on a role that is more demanding than any she played in Hollywood.

Sadly, it seems, the only role Kidman can play with any conviction nowadays is the celebrity on the red carpet. All that requires is a smile and I'm not even sure this most joyless of actors can pull that off.

The West Australian

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