Dozing off on the couch Memorial Day evening with a belly full of improperly cooked-out burgers and cheap beer is a bit of a holiday tradition (in our house, anyway), but this year, there’s a particularly fascinating bit of television programming for you to nod off to: Grace of Monaco, in which Oscar winner Nicole Kidman plays iconic movie-star-turned-princess Grace Kelly. This was supposed to be a giant movie: opening the Cannes Film Festival, awards season push by the Weinstein Company, Oscar glory. Instead, it’s quietly making its stateside debut on Lifetime, a network better known for cringe-worthy original biopics and tales of women in jeopardy. So how did such a prestige project end up on a punchline network? Let’s roll the tape.
February 2008: At the 80th Academy Awards, Marion Cotillard wins the Oscar for Best Actress, for Olivier Dahan’s Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose. (She is only the fifth actor in Academy history to win an acting award for a non-English role.) The film — which also wins the Oscar for Best Makeup and is nominated for Best Costume Design, while winning a Golden Globe and several César and BAFTA prizes — launches Cotillard’s career, but also marks Dahan as a filmmaker worth watching.
April 2010: Dahan’s follow-up, My Own Love Song, premieres in France and makes its US debut at the Tribeca Film Festival. His English-language debut, it is a road-trip drama with Renee Zellweger as a tortured, wheelchair-bound country singer and Forest Whitaker as her mentally disabled, stuttering pal. Surprisingly enough, it is awful. It doesn’t make it to American theaters, instead going to DVD and (in a hints of things to come) Lifetime.
October 2011: Financier Pierre-Ange Le Pogam acquires the script for Grace of Monaco. Written on spec by Arash Amel (who, at the time, has an Aaron Eckhart action vehicle called Erased in production) and the object of a bidding war, the project is, according to THR, “already generating heated interest from filmmakers itching to tell Kelly’s tale,” while “insiders have compared the script to King’s Speech in scope and tone.”
December 2011: The Grace script appears on the 2011 installment of “The Black List,” film exec Franklin Leonard’s yearly roundup of the hottest unproduced screenplays in Hollywood. Other scripts of note that year include The Imitation Game, Django Unchained, Saving Mr. Banks, and, um, Sex Tape.
January 2012: Olivier Dahan signs on to direct Grace of Monaco, with a reported budget of $15 million. Deadline reports Dahan “has been in on meetings that producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam has taken as they figure out the right young actress” to play the title role.
April 2012: Variety reports Nicole Kidman is in talks to play the lead, which “nearly every top actress in Hollywood chased.” Kidman eventually signs. Kelly was 34 years old at the time of the events in the film; Kidman will be 45 during production.
August 2012: As the film steams towards a fall start, Tim Roth signs to play Prince Rainier opposite Kidman. (He is 51; Prince Rainier was 39 at the time of the film’s events.) Frank Langella and Paz Vega round out the supporting cast.
September 2012: Production begins in France. It will continue through the fall, shooting in Italy and Monte Carlo, with the budget climbing to somewhere between $30-$35 million (reports vary).
January 2013: Shortly after the completion of principle photography, the royal family of Monaco slams the picture as “purely fictional.” They claim the film’s script “has caused much astonishment” and insist that “this film is no way constitutes a biopic.” This is not the harshest criticism the film will receive.
March 2013: After a month of talks, the Weinstein Company closes a deal to distribute Grace of Monaco in the United States. “More than 30 years after her death, Grace Kelly’s story continues to be one of insurmountable allure and we are so happy Olivier Dahan has brought it new life,” says TWC Co-Chairman Harvey Weinstein. TWC sets an awards-friendly December release, which some daft writers take as scientific evidence that the Kidman will be up for Best Actress the following spring.
September 2013: With a fall theatrical bow still on the schedule, the first trailer for Grace of Monaco appears. It looks pretty bad, but no worse than your average lush Oscar-bait biopic. However, later that month, the Weinstein Company bumps Grace from its fall release date to an unspecified slot in 2014. The move is described, like that of Foxcatcher the same week, as the result of a too-crowded awards season. Harvey Weinsten later explains that the film “just wasn’t finished, the sound, anything,” and thus couldn’t have played the fall festivals necessary to generate Oscar buzz.
October 2013: Sit down because this is a bit of a shocker, but that explanation might have been PR spin. In an interview with the French newspaper Liberation, Dahan chalks up the delay to fights with his distributor (who has, well, something of reputation). “It is finished,” Dahan says. “What’s complicated at the moment is ensuring that you, the critics, can review my version of the film and not that of somebody else… It’s right to struggle, but when you confront an American distributor like Weinstein, not to name names, there is not much you can do.” According to the filmmaker, “There are two versions of the film for now: mine and his… which I find catastrophic.”
January 2014: Grace of Monaco is announced as the opening film of the 2014 Cannes Film Festival — a nice bit of circularity, as its subjects first met at the fest in April of 1955. The splashy debut seems odd, in light of all the behind-the-scenes fighting (TWC was reportedly unaware that the film’s distributors had submitted it to the festival), though THR notes “the film’s Cannes release date puts pressure on Dahan to complete and deliver his final version the film.”
April 2014: Just weeks before its Cannes debut, Variety reports TWC is considering dropping out as Grace’s US distributor. “The problem, according to sources, is that Weinstein is still unsatisfied with the version of the film that the Cannes jury selected to open the festival on May 14.”
May 2014: On the very day of Grace’s Cannes premiere, The Weinstein Company successfully renegotiates its deal for American distribution, paying $3 million rather than the previously contracted $5 million. “The version of the film screened in the United States will be Dahan’s cut,” according to Variety. “If any changes are made, they will be mutually approved by Weinstein and Dahan working together, according to the new contract.”
And then the film — Dahan’s version, FWIW — screens for audiences and critics for the first time.
The Hollywood Reporter: “The Shrek movies deconstruct fairy-tale conventions with much more depth and wit than this dreary parade of lifeless celebrity waxworks.” The Guardian: “It is a film so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk.” Variety: “The offscreen palace intrigue between Grace of Monaco director Olivier Dahan and his on-again off-again U.S. distributor Harvey Weinstein turns out to be far livelier than anything on screen in Dahan’s cardboard and frequently cornball melodrama.”
Weinstein is a no-show at the Cannes premiere and press conference (citing a prior commitment), as is screenwriter Amel. Reviews are scarcely better during the spring and summer European release, where it grosses a modest $26 million. In an analysis of the picture’s now-slim Oscar chances, Variety editor Ramin Setoodeh presciently notes the film “at times feels like a made-for-TV movie.”
Fall 2014: Another awards season comes and goes, with no US release plans for Grace of Monaco, the movie even Harvey Weinstein won’t waste an Oscar campaign on.
January 2015: In an interview with Deadline, Weinstein shrugs, “you’ll probably see it, either in a small theatrical release or on TV afterwards.” He blames the director: “I’d seen rushes that were great. The director is French, and he turned it more into a Hitchcock movie like a paean to Vertigo, which ironically Grace wasn’t in… It wasn’t a transformative movie but it was a damn entertaining one. But Olivier Dahan wanted to do what Olivier wanted to do.”
April 2015: Lifetime announces a Memorial Day premiere of Grace of Monaco. Screenwriter Amel, whom Weinstein paints as the real victim of Dahan’s work (“Amel, called me and said, what happened to my script. It’s like, welcome to Hollywood”), gleefully tweets, “I’m just glad the director’s vision found its rightful home.” He also promises to “own this beautiful disaster” by live-tweeting “what really went on behind the scenes.”
In the meantime, the writer/producer has set up his next project, which made it to last year’s Black List: an adaptation of Chris Greenhalgh’s novel Seducing Ingrid Bergman. It’s a romantic drama about one Hitchcock’s favorite leading ladies.
You can’t make this stuff up.