Cannes 2014: Nicole Kidman says Grace of Monaco 'was done with love'

The Cannes film festival kicked off on Wednesday with Grace of Monaco, a study of Grace Kelly's neurotic but triumphal progress through the early years of her marriage to Prince Rainier III, titular head of said statelet only 35 miles up the coast. The film's star, Nicole Kidman, told journalists that Kelly "fascinated" her, and that studying the princess's life "magnified how unusual it was, the rarefied air in which she existed." "She was really smart, and under the cool exterior she had an enormous passion for life, and curiosity towards it. She maintained a dignity in her life, which is really hard to do when you are so much in the public eye."

Grace of Monaco's position as the flagship film of Cannes 2014 is entirely reasonable, as it ticks all the boxes the festival could want. Sunlit Riviera glamour, old-school Hollywood sheen, a heavyweight red-carpet presence in Kidman, a walk-on for Alfred Hitchcock, backstairs political intrigue at a febrile point in recent French history, a hot French director (Olivier Dahan, who made a splash with the Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose starring Marion Cotillard).

But the reviews have been unkind to the point of abusive: the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw said it was "like a 104-minute Chanel ad, only without the subtlety and depth", The Daily Telegraph's Robbie Collin dismissed it as "a fantastically silly melodrama", while Time Out's chief critic Dave Calhoun called it "soft-focus, sundrenched and clunky… too much like a stodgy outdated TV movie to work even as kitsch.". Even the normally forgiving trade magazine Variety called it "dramatically inert" and a "misbegotten venture".

Perhaps understandably in retrospect, Grace of Monaco's US distributor Harvey Weinstein, has been involved in a very public slanging match with the film's makers over changes he wanted to make in order to secure release in this key territory. Director Oliver Dahan stood his ground like any self-respecting auteur, calling the Weinstein-mandated re-edit "a pile of shit", and appeared ready to walk away from the deal. The set-to had already forced the postponement of Grace of Monaco's March 2014 release (and abandonment of its planned participation in the 2013/14 awards season scramble); but just minutes before Dahan and his stars sat down to face the press after the film's unveiling on Wednesday morning, news filtered through that Weinstein had capitulated, and dropped his demand to create his own edit for the US market.

Dahan, consequently, was in quietly confident mood as he faced the press, unfazed by the brickbats and bullish under his bulky cap. "There are no longer two versions," he said. "There is no dispute over that. If any changes need to be made we will do them together. I am very pleased with the current situation." He has every right to be; how many directors have seen off the feared "Harvey Scissorhands"?

Kidman, however, was the star of the show, and seemingly the only element of the film that will save it from an almighty pounding when it does eventually open at the box-office. A firm favourite at Cannes, with her supermodel level bearing and studious mien, Kidman is the kind of actor who sends Cannes into bit of a tizzy. (This is her third Cannes in a row, after taking a seat on the jury panel last year, and appearing in The Paperboy the year before that.)

She repeated her defence of the film when the subject of the disapproval of the Grimaldi family was floated, particularly that of Kelly and Rainier's children, Prince Albert (Monaco's current monarch), and Princesses Caroline and Stephanie. Kidman said the film has "no malice towards the family" and that she "understands their desire to protect the privacy of their mother and father". She also said: "It's awkward, but I want them to know the performance was done with love. If they ever did see the film they would know it was done with an enormous amount of affection for both their parents, and their love story."

The subject of the awful reviews was studiously avoided, however. One journalist got in a question asking Kidman and her co-star Tim Roth five reasons why anyone should go and see the film. Neither leapt to their feet and shouted: "Don't waste your money!"; instead, all we got was some polite laughter and a quick change of subject.

This article was amended on 17 May 2014, to remove a reference to Harvey Weintein's trip to a refugee camp in Jordan.

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