From the moment the two films were announced, Grace of Monaco and Diana were destined to draw comparisons to one another. Each film focuses on a compelling period in the private life of a high-profile royal — Princess Grace of Monaco and Diana, Princess of Wales. Each film even stars an Academy Award-winning Australian actress — real-life BFFs Nicole Kidman and Naomi Watts.
But it was only after Thursday’s premiere of Grace of Monaco, the opener at the Cannes Film Festival, that the two films became linked in infamy. When Diana was released last fall, it was immediately and viciously panned by critics. As TIME editor at large Catherine Mayer bluntly put it in her review,”The film is a royal mess.” But Diana also gave reviewers a new benchmark of failure to which future royal biopics could be compared — and that benchmark hasn’t served Grace well. In his TIME review, Richard Corliss wrote the film is “[o]ften silly but never vivacious” and it’s “short on either insight or juice.” Other reviewers were more vicious: The Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw wrote, “It is a film so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk”; The Hollywood Reporter‘s Stephen Dalton asked, “Is it even possible to make a boring film out of this rich, juicy, gossipy material?”
While it’s already apparent that both films — despite juicy subject matter, stunning settings and award winning actors — won’t deliver on the hype, we broke down each movie to determine which royal really got the worst big-screen treatment.
Both films had well-known foreign directors attached, who had each previously garnered critical acclaim. Diana was helmed by German director Oliver Hirschbiegel, who is best known for Downfall, a 2004 film that depicts the final ten days of Adolf Hitler’s reign over Nazi Germany in 1945. That film not only earned an Oscar nod for Best Foreign Film, it also became an internet supermeme when, years later, a scene from the film was co-opted for countless parodies. (We’re sure there’s a “Hitler hears about the Diana movie” parody out there somewhere.)
Grace of Monaco was also helmed by a similarly auspicious director, Olivier Dahan. It was Dahan’s La Vie en Rose — the 2007 film about the life of French singer Édith Piaf — that brought Marion Cotillard her 2008 Best Actress win at the Oscars, marking the first time an Academy Award had been awarded for a French-language role.
Each film was repeatedly described as “lavish,” which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering their budgets. Though there’s no official numbers for Diana‘s production budget, reports have put the number as high as $40 million. While that’s not an exorbitant amount of money compared to the massive budgets afforded to Hollywood superhero films, Diana took in a paltry $21 million in box offices around the world, making it a verifiable flop.
For its part, Grace was made on a marginally tighter budget, with a reported $30 million spent on production. Since the film hasn’t received a theatrical release yet, there are no box office sales to calculate whether that figure will come close to being recouped. But considering the reviews, the film certainly isn’t guaranteed to be a money-maker.
Perhaps not surprisingly, both projects were met with resistance from the real-life families and friends of the movies’ subjects. Diana’s sons Princes William and Harry refrained from commenting on the the film about their mother, while the princess’s former lover, Dr. Hasnat Khan, was reportedly approached for input, but refused. He later told the press the film was, “based on gossip and Diana’s friends talking about a relationship they didn’t know much about.” He added, “There’s no way I am going to go anywhere near it, not now or ever.”
As for Grace, the late royal’s children, Prince Albert II, Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie, released a joint statement earlier this year saying their “numerous requests for changes” to the film’s script had been ignored. The statement went on to denounce the project, saying: “the royal family wishes to stress that this film in no way constitutes a biopic. It recounts one rewritten and needlessly glamorized page in the history of Monaco and its family with both major historical inaccuracies and a series of purely fictional scenes.”
As Diana the woman continues to loom large in Britain’s public imagination, it’s hardly any surprise that U.K. critics were especially hard on Diana the film. It’s likely that scathing reception was the impetus for the film’s limited release in the U.S., where it appeared in a measly 38 theaters. But being barely seen stateside didn’t prevent Naomi Watts from being nominated for a Razzie for her performance.
When it comes to Grace, its post-premiere drama seems to be ongoing, as Dahan and U.S. distributor Harvey Weinstein are locked in a battle for final cut. The director has previously called Weinstein’s cut “a pile of shit,” but as it was Dahan’s cut that premiered at Cannes — and earned all the blistering press — it’s unclear which cut will actually hit theaters in the U.S.
On paper, Diana and Grace of Monaco had everything going for them: prestigious directors, big-name stars, juicy subjects, lavish budgets and pre-release buzz. Yet the finest ingredients don’t always make the best dish and, in this case, the public was left with two very unsavory choices. And though it’s a close call, the combination of a festival opening flop, a public dispute over final cut, an official and royal denunciation, and marginally worse reviews lead us to believe that Grace of Monaco is the bigger cinematic train-wreck. (Though, of course, there’s still the possibility that Grace of Monaco will prove critics wrong and be a hit at the box office, but we very much doubt it)
Ultimately, it almost doesn’t matter which princess picture was the bigger bomb: we all lose here.
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