Princess Grace is forever linked to Cannes
CANNES, France — Grace of Monaco opened the Cannes Film Festival to buzz and glamorous controversy this week with its depiction of the American actress turned real-life princess, Grace Kelly.
The location was fitting dramatic poetry, since the Cannes Film Festival started off the true drama nearly 60 years ago.
In the summer of 1955, Grace Kelly traveled to the South of France to attend her first Cannes festival with her Academy Award-winning performance in The Country Girl. She would meet her future husband, Prince Rainier III of Monaco, in a life-altering twist.
"There is a big connection to the Cannes Film Festival — that's where this amazing journey begins," says Wendy Leigh, author of the biography True Grace. "Fate played a hand on this trip, and it completely changed her life. She would go from playing a princess onscreen to actually being a princess, and she fit the part perfectly."
Even the official Cannes festival website points out that Grace's trip to Cannes led to "an encounter that would change her life."
The photo-op meeting at the Royal Palace of Monaco with Rainier, ruler of the principality about 40 miles from Cannes, featured a tour of his zoo. It also set the wheels in motion for the eligible prince and the Hollywood star.
"This fascinating marriage came out of a photo opportunity," says Robert Lacey, author of the biography Grace. "And right from the beginning, you have this idea of a clash between true love, romance and this eventual marriage of convenience."
Grace, at 25, was an A-list actress in films such as High Noon alongside Gary Cooper and in Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.
"But her days in Hollywood were numbered. She was very clever, and she knew that. And she believed in fairy tales," Leigh says.
On the basis of this fringe festival meeting, Rainier started a series of letters to Kelly. He traveled to America in the winter of 1955 and proposed. She accepted.
"Grace Kelly and Rainier fell in love with the idea of each other. That's the fundamental explanation of their relationship," Lacey says.
The life of a princess was an exquisite exit from the Hollywood treadmill, and Rainier's struggling principality also clearly benefited from Grace's profound glamour. The tale of the American-born princess captured the global imagination.
The televised wedding in April 1956 featured guests such as Ava Gardner and Cary Grant. "The hysteria around British royal weddings in later years took their tone from Grace and Rainier," Lacey says.
Her return to Cannes this week shows the less glamorous later act: Grace of Monaco portrays Grace (Nicole Kidman) yearning to return to Hollywood for another Hitchcock film but being held back by controlling Rainier (Tim Roth).
Grace's children (Prince Albert, Princess Caroline and Princess Stephanie) have decried the film as "a farce."
The fateful meeting led to a storybook beginning but not ending. Grace and Rainier were living separate lives, biographers say, when she died in a car accident in 1982. Rainier died in 2005.
"It ended much more subtle and tragic than any storybook," Lacey says. "It had all the strains, tensions, joys and tragedies that a screenwriter might never have imagined. But even in the unhappiness, there was a poetry and a significance to it."