First scheduled for release at the end of November 2013, the film was then re-scheduled for March 14, 2014, until being pulled from the release schedule indefinitely. It opened the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, playing out of competition. It was released to cinemas in some countries in 2014, but bypassed a theatrical release in the US and ultimately debuted on the Lifetime cable network on May 25, 2015.
Grace of Monaco is focused on former Hollywood star Grace Kelly's crisis of marriage and identity, during a dispute between Monaco's Prince Rainier III and France's Charles de Gaulle in 1962 as well as her considering a return to Hollywood to film Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie.
In 1962, several years after her departure from Hollywood in 1956, Alfred Hitchcock visits Princess Grace in Monaco with an invitation to return to Hollywood to star in his new film Marnie. The offer comes with a lucrative incentive of a one million dollar contract if she accepts his offer for the starring role. Princess Grace is intrigued by the offer. Her role as the wife of a head of state has been limited in scope and dealing mostly with charity work for hospitals and humanitarian efforts. She asks her husband for permission and he initially appears to be agreeable to her taking the role if she wants the part.
In the meantime, tensions between France and Monaco are growing due to the dependence which France associates with the trade favors it has been offering to Monaco throughout the twentieth century. France initiates diplomatic measures to get Monaco to accept a position of being a province within France, in the hope that Prince Rainier will give up his sovereign control over Monaco. The Prince is reticent to accept any such offer. This in turn provokes France to begin initial steps toward a trade embargo against Monaco. The French government also initiates clandestine contact with close members of the Prince's family, namely his sister and her husband, in order to help expedite the Prince's capitulation to French demands in exchange for favors. The tensions caused also create differences of opinion between the Prince and his wife which cause the Prince to wish to take back his offer to allow Grace to accept the film offer from Hitchcock. The Princess appears to need to take stock of her responsibilities and re-evaluate her priorities.
She decides to increase her concern for her participation in the improvement of local hospitals and Red Cross aid throughout Europe, and she organizes a charity Ball to take place in October for the purposes of fund raising and improving the prestige of Monaco in the process. Unexpectedly, she receives a report presenting photographic evidence that the Prince's sister has been covertly negotiating with France and de Gaulle against the interests of the Prince, which she promptly reports to the Prince. The Prince denounces his sister's conduct and takes steps to have her exiled from Monaco by due process of law. Princess Grace decides that the Hollywood offer is no longer a part of her life and no longer a viable option to her given her new diplomatic and political responsibilities in Monaco. Her international charity ball for the Red Cross is a grand success and Monaco gains significant international political capital from the event which allows the Prince and Princess to preserve the sovereignty of Monaco for themselves, their children, and the people of Monaco.
The script, written by Arash Amel, was listed in the 2011 Hollywood Black List of the most liked screenplays written in that year and sold to French-based producer Pierre-Ange Le Pogam in a competitive bid.
Principal photography began in September 2012 in Paris and Menton, France. In October 2012, the production moved to Italy, first to Grimaldi, the village near Ventimiglia, which bears the name of the royal house of Monaco, then in Mortola, near Ventimiglia at Villa Hanbury. The production was granted permission to close Monaco's main square for 24 hours between October 29–30, 2012, and during this time the cast were seen filming outside and around the Monte Carlo Casino. In November 2012 and, again, in January 2013, the production was in Genoa, Italy, on the housed set in the Royal Palace in Via Balbi, where the Hall of Mirrors replicates the residence of the royal court of Monaco. Interiors were shot in Belgium (Belgian parliament in Brussels, the city of Ghent and television studios in Lint.)
On January 16, 2013, shortly after filming ended, Prince Albert II, Princess Caroline and Princess Stéphanie (Kelly's children) criticized the subject matter of the approved script, describing it as "needlessly glamorized and historically inaccurate," and said that "numerous requests for changes" had been ignored, which "had caused much astonishment." The statement continued, "Therefore, the Royal Family wishes to stress that this film in no way constitutes a biopic. It recounts one rewritten, needlessly glamorized page in the history of Monaco and its family with both major historical inaccuracies and a series of purely fictional scenes."
In response to these criticisms, Melvyn Stokes from University College London said, "[T]he fact that their statement was issued before the film was even edited, let alone released, suggests that they may be opposed to any film about their mother". According to biographer Jeffrey Robinson, Princess Caroline was shown a script before filming, thought it was meant to be a comedy, then realized it was simply fiction. She went through the script with a red pen to correct things that were blatantly wrong, but Dahan was no longer interested and refused to make any changes. Jeffrey Robinson also states that "The scriptwriter should have his laptop taken away and not even be allowed to type a laundry list".
Reviewing the film for History Extra, the official website of BBC History Magazine, Stokes said the film contains a number of historical inaccuracies, such as the suggestion that Grace's speech to the Red Cross Ball in Monaco on October 9, 1962, "defused the [tax] crisis". In reality, he points out, "its removal was the result of a compromise tax deal signed between France and Monaco that made French citizens who had lived in Monaco for less than five years, or companies doing more than a quarter of their business outside the principality, subject to French taxation." Stokes awarded the film one star for historical accuracy.
In an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro in December 2012, the film's star, Nicole Kidman, hinted that the film would be a character study, stating, "This is not a biopic or a fictionalized documentary of Grace Kelly, but only a small part of her life where she reveals her great humanity as well as her fears and weaknesses."
The production had previously asserted that the film does not purport to cover Grace Kelly's life, but a specific moment in her existence, and was filmed in Monaco with the support of the principality.
On January 19, 2013, director Olivier Dahan responded to the royal press release by stating, "I am not a journalist or historian. I am an artist. I have not made a biopic. I hate biopics in general. I have done, in any subjectivity, a human portrait of a modern woman who wants to reconcile her family, her husband, her career. But who will give up her career and invent another role. And it will be painful." He also stated, "I understand their point of view. After all, it is their mother. I do not want to provoke anyone. Only to say that it's cinema."
On May 2, 2014, the royal family released an official statement saying: "The Prince's Palace would like to reiterate that this feature film cannot under any circumstances be classified as a biopic."
Dahan has been vocal on the final cut disagreements he has with the film's US distributor Harvey Weinstein. He told Libération, "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. Either you say, 'Go figure it out with your pile of shit' or you brace yourself so the blackmail isn't as violent … If I don't sign, that's where the out-and-out blackmail starts, but I could go that far. There are two versions of the film for now: mine and his … which I find catastrophic."
In April 2014, only two weeks before its opening night premiere at Cannes, Variety reported that Weinstein was considering dropping the film for US distribution. It was reported several weeks later that Weinstein had decided to keep the film. Weinstein said that the cut shown at Cannes was missing a key scene that would address the 'legitimate concerns' raised by the royal family over the depiction in Dahan's movie. Though Amel never publicly took a side in the long-running feud over final cut, he refused to attend the film's official photo call and press conference at the Cannes Film Festival for the director's cut being screened.
At the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, notable absences at the press conference and official photo-call were Weinstein and the film's screenwriter Amel. Weinstein cited charitable work in Syria as the reason for his absence, while Amel told The Hollywood Reporter that "he doesn’t want his “big first Cannes moment” undermined by the controversy surrounding the dueling cuts."
The film was overwhelmingly panned by critics. Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 10% of 53 surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating was 3.3/10. The site's consensus reads: "Beautifully shot but utterly vapid, Grace of Monaco fails to honor either its subject or its audience." Metacritic rated it a 21 out of 100 based on ten reviews, indicating "generally unfavorable reviews". Film critic Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian called it "a film so awe-inspiringly wooden that it is basically a fire-risk". The Hollywood Reporter's review opined that "The Shrek movies deconstruct fairy tale conventions with much more depth and wit than this dreary parade of lifeless celebrity waxworks". Screen Daily's Fionnuala Halligan described the film as "puzzlingly misjudged... a minor royal Euro-pudding which lands awkwardly in sub-Roman Holiday territory".
Both Dahan's direction and Amel's script were heavily criticized. Guy Lodge of HitFix wrote, "If [Dahan] instructed [Kidman] at all, it was with sporadic, barking interjections from the spoken-word breakdown of Vogue". Scott Foundas of Variety wrote, "Amel's script is agonizingly airless and contrived." Brian Viner of The Daily Mail called the script "clunkier than a wooden leg on a ballroom floor", and Robbie Collin of The Daily Telegraph referred to it as "thoroughly awful." Mark Kermode in The Guardian wrote, "The biggest problem is Arash Amel's script, which asks us to side with tax evaders and gamblers (Monaco did indeed incur a French blockade for tax-sheltering their billionaires), and to imagine that there is something beautiful and noble about allowing companies to shirk their revenue responsibilities. (Presumably the forthcoming DVD will be heavily promoted on Amazon?)". Kermode's review of Dahan's film was directly rebutted in a long defense of the movie by critic Brad Stevens in the British Film Institute's film magazine Sight & Sound, stating "The critical condescension that met Olivier Dahan's Grace of Monaco biopic shows tastemakers still struggling with ‘feminine’ cinema."
Kidman's performance as Kelly received mixed reviews. Geoffrey MacNab of The Independent wrote that "Kidman excels in a role in which she is called on to project glamour and suffering in equal measure – and is never allowed to be seen in the same outfit twice." The Daily Mail praised the actress, saying, "Kidman... rises regally to the occasion. She makes a wholly believable Grace, doubtless because she brings genuine wattage to her role as a genuine star." Allan Hunter of the Daily Express also praised Kidman: "It is Nicole Kidman who dominates and the camera positively sighs with pleasure every moment she is on screen."
Scout Foundas of Variety, on the other hand, criticized Kidman's performance, summarizing that "the actress never appears to fully connect with the character, delivering a series of doleful little-girl-lost poses — and, later, pantomimed iron-jawed determination." Dave Calhoun of Time Out London shared the same sentiments saying, "Kidman's breathless, blank performance does little to add life or credibility to a script that, looking on the bright side, might have audiences giggling for years to come."
Roth's performance was mostly criticized. Stephen Dalton of The Hollywood Reporter said, "Tim Roth never convinces as Rainier, chain-smoking through every scene with a pained frown suggesting mild constipation."
In January 2015, Harvey Weinstein clarified the events leading to the conflict between himself and the director. He indicated that the US release will be a "Writer's Cut", restoring the movie to the spirit of the screenplay The Weinstein Company signed on for, which he compared to The King's Speech. He said, "The writer, Arash Amel, called me and said, what happened to my script. It’s like welcome to Hollywood. Writers don’t have any say, but we decided to pair him up with a team of people and see what he could do about restoring the movie to the way it looked when he wrote it. He did a wonderful job."