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Just How Accurate Is the Controversial Cannes Opener Grace of Monaco?

6 minute read

Grace of Monaco, the opening-night attraction at the 67th Cannes Film Festival, stoked plenty of controversy when Prince Albert, the monarch of nearby Monaco, denounced this biopic about his parents Rainier III (Tim Roth) and Princess Grace, the former Hollywood star Grace Kelly (Nicole Kidman). “It recounts one rewritten and needlessly glamorised page in the history of Monaco and its family,” read a statement from the royal family last year, “with both major historical inaccuracies and a series of purely fictional scenes.”

Olivier Dayan surrounds the royal couple with a surfeit of ’60s Euro-glam, including Aristotle Onassis and his diva friend Maria Callas, as the movie places Grace at the center of an international incident involving tiny Monaco and its world-power neighbor France. Grace of Monaco opens with the disclaimer that “This film is a fiction inspired by real events” — which is French for saying, as the fact-based fiction American Hustle did, “Some of this actually happened.” So we can’t criticize the movie for massaging the facts — especially when there are plenty of other reasons to criticize it.

(READ: Corliss’s review of Grace of Monaco)

But the film does attach the names of real people to events in the public record. Those we can fact-track. This film about political and personal betrayal is also more interesting for the sexual adventures it ignores. We’ll get to them later. For now…

The French government under President Charles de Gaulle, infuriated that Monaco paid no taxes to the nation that surrounded it and provided it with utilities and military defense, blockaded all roads into and out of the tiny principality, forcing an international crisis.
Ruling: Fact

Wealthy French citizens and certain French companies had relocated to Monaco, which at the time had no individual or corporate taxes; 95% of the country’s revenue came from its Monte Carlo casinos. (That later changed under Rainier’s economic reforms; the revenue percentage from its gambling houses is now in the single digits.) Eager both to reclaim millions of francs from this tax shelter — Europe’s own Cayman Islands — and to divert attention from the Algerian War it would soon lose, de Gaulle set up his blockade to force Rainier to pay up. According to a 1962 TIME story, “With the crisis threatening to escalate, Princess Grace rushed back from a shopping trip to Paris with her two children and a poodle, and 30 ‘war’ correspondents flocked into the principality.”

Princess Grace, in an Oct. 9, 1962 speech at a Red Cross fundraiser with de Gaulle in attendance, charmed the President with her eloquence to lift the blockade.
Ruling: Probably fiction

We would never underestimate the seductive power of the former Grace Kelly, even in matter of politics. But there is no evidence that her words or presence had a material effect on the crisis. It was resolved the old-fashioned way: compromise. Those who had resided in Monaco for fewer than five years, and formerly French companies doing less than a quarter of their business there, had to pay the going French rate. The rest of the émigrés got a free ride.

Alfred Hitchcock went to Monaco to convince Grace to return to films as the star of Marnie. She was tempted but finally declined in order to stay with Rainier during the crisis with France.
Ruling: Fact

In the documentary The Trouble with Marnie (2000), Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia recalls: “My mother and father were very close friends of Princess Grace and Prince Rainier. And when my father found this story, Marnie, they went over, and they talked to Grace, and she loved the story and really was prepared to come back. … Unfortunately, what happened in between the time she agreed and [when the film] was ready to go, they were having large problems in Monaco. And Rainier finally didn’t think it was a good time for her to be gone, and that’s why she didn’t do it.” In Grace of Monaco, Hitchcock (played by Roger Ashton Griffiths) shows up without his wife Alma Reveille, but the rest is correct. And Grace’s decision proved correct: the 1964 film, starring Tippi Hedren as Marnie, was a financial and critical flop.

Five years into her reign, Grace still hadn’t learned French.
Ruling: Apparently fact

Though she attended the finest East Coast girls’ schools (Ravenhill, Stevens), she skipped college to pursue an acting career. And though she carried herself with an almost European hauteur, she did not speak the language of her new country for some time after she became its princess in 1956 — though she may not have taken five years, as the film suggests, to find a proper French teacher.

A member of the Royal Family betrayed Rainier by secretly meeting with French authorities during the blockade as part of a plot to depose the Prince and seize the throne.
Ruling: A fact inside a fiction

Spoiler alert: Rainier’s only sibling, Princess Antoinette (played in the film by Géraldine Somerville), had produced three children out of wedlock in her long liaison with Monagasque lawyer and sportsman Alexandre Athenase Noghès. The children were legitimized when Antoinette wed Noghès in 1951. The bachelor Rainier’s marriage to Grace, and their speedy production of daughter Caroline and son Albert, upset Antoinette’s plans to have her son Christian become the monarch. She schemed against Rainier and was eventually ostracized. But all this happened long before the 1962 blockade. Antoinette couldn’t have been a counter-agent because she was no longer on the inside.

The Prince and the Princess slept in separate bedrooms.
Ruling: Fact, as far as it goes

Well, they lived in a big house. And their sexual lives were, at least before the marriage, on the busy side. In his bachelor days, Rainier had kept the French actress Gisèle Pascal as his mistress, abandoning her only when his sister told him Pascal was infertile and unable to supply Monaco with an heir. (Naughty Antoinette! Pascal bore a daughter, by actor Raymond Pellegrin, in 1962, the year of the blockade crisis.)

Kelly in her years as a young actress was known to have taken many lovers. You needn’t believe all of Wendy Leigh’s gaudy biography True Grace — which had Kelly bedding every performer in her films except the black cat in To Catch a Thief — to be convinced that the new star enjoyed the company of Hollywood’s most desirable gentlemen. One tantalizing tale has her entertaining Frank Sinatra on the Monaco palace grounds. But we can’t say for sure; we weren’t there. So please don’t fact-check this particular fact-check.

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