At Cannes, it’s hit and miss with ‘Mr. Turner,’ ‘Grace of Monaco’

Above: Nicole Kidman at Wednesday’s photocall in Cannes for “Grace of Monaco.” Right (from left): “Mr. Turner” cast members Dorothy Atkinson, Timothy Spall, and Marion Bailey speak to film festival media on Thursday.
Eric Gaillard/Reuters
Nicole Kidman at Wednesday’s photocall in Cannes for “Grace of Monaco.”

CANNES, France — The Grace Kelly melodrama ‘‘Grace of Monaco’’ kicked off the 67th annual Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday with classic French Riviera glamour, behind-the-scenes controversy, and emphatic boos from critics.

The film, starring Nicole Kidman as Kelly during her marriage to Prince Rainier III of Monaco (Tim Roth), gave Cannes some local Cote d’Azur color and star wattage for a flashy opening. But it also started the 11-day festival on an unusually tumultuous note.

‘‘Grace of Monaco’’ has for months been embroiled in a feud over the final edit with North American distributor the Weinstein Co. It has also been criticized by the Monaco royal family as inaccurate. (The film, which chronicles Kelly’s retirement from Hollywood and adjustment to life as a European princess, is a labeled as a ‘‘fictional account inspired by real events.”)


But director Olivier Dahan (“La Vie en Rose”) and Weinstein Co. co-chairman Harvey Weinstein swept their differences under the red carpet Wednesday. After twice postponing its US release, the Weinstein Co. will distribute Dahan’s version, albeit for a lesser fee.

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‘‘There is only one version of the film,’’ Dahan said, adding that any changes would be made mutually. ‘‘There is no longer any dispute. We work well together.’’

Yet ‘‘Grace of Monaco’’ was met with some of the worst reviews for a Cannes opener. The Hollywood Reporter called the film ‘‘a stiff, stagey, thunderingly earnest affair which has generated far more drama off screen than on.’’

Reports had questioned whether Weinstein would spurn the premiere, causing him to issue a statement Wednesday saying he was traveling on a humanitarian trip in Jordan. He wished Dahan and the cast ‘‘all the best’’ for the screening.

Kidman was clearly excited by the part — playing a great actress she admires and is arguably her equal in stature. But Kidman said the refusal by Princess Stephanie of Monaco to see the film about her parents was ‘‘awkward.’’


‘‘I feel sad because I think the film has no malice toward the family,’’ said Kidman. ‘‘You take dramatic license at times, but I understand also because it’s their mother and father.’’

Though ‘‘Grace of Monaco’’ isn’t eligible for the prestigious Palme d’Or award, Kidman (a jury member last year) said she would have picked it.

The festival jury, led by Jane Campion, was also introduced Wednesday. As the only female filmmaker to win the Palme (for ‘‘The Piano’’ in 1993), Campion faced questions that have often surrounded Cannes about the inclusion of women directors.

‘‘I think you’d have to say there’s inherent sexism in the industry,’’ Campion said.

Of the some 1,800 films submitted to festival director Thierry Fremaux, Campion said only 7 percent were directed by women, though 20 percent are represented in the program.


‘‘But nevertheless, it does feel very undemocratic,’’ said Campion, who added that movies are losing out on a feminine perspective.

Last year, the Palme went to the erotic French coming-of-age tale ‘‘Blue Is the Warmest Color.’’ In a first, Steven Spielberg’s jury awarded the Palme not just to the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, but also to its two stars, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux.

This year brings a selection of 18 films somewhat light on Hollywood, but heavy on world-class auteurs, including Jean-Luc Godard, Ken Loach, the Dardenne brothers, Mike Leigh, and Michel Hazanavicius, returning to where his ‘‘The Artist’’ became a sensation.

In Leigh’s biopic of J.M.W. Turner, Timothy Spall brings the great British painter of stormy seas and fiery skies to life as a gruff, grunting genius.

Leigh’s ‘‘Mr. Turner’’ premiered at Cannes on Thursday to excellent reviews and raves for Spall, the veteran 57-year-old British actor. Though recognized by many for playing Mr. Pettigrew in the ‘‘Harry Potter’’ films, ‘‘Mr. Turner’’ is a deserved leading-man turn for Spall, one that made him the star of Cannes’s second day.

‘‘What made us the perfect match, apart from anything, is he was a funny-looking, fat little man, and so am I,’’ said Spall. ‘‘But as far as his soul was concerned, that took a lot more research.’’

Eric Gaillard/Reuters
From left: “Mr. Turner” cast members Dorothy Atkinson, Timothy Spall, and Marion Bailey speak to film festival media on Thursday.

As the 19th-century painter, Spall is single-minded in capturing the dramatic light that composed his landscape masterworks. But though his intellect and talent come through, Spall’s Turner is little like the ideal of the great artist. With his fuzzy mutton chops and lumbering stride, he’s grubby, randy, and curmudgeonly.

‘‘It’s about how genius is not in always the most romantic of packages,’’ said Spall. ‘‘Most geniuses are strange.’’

Sony Pictures Classics will release ‘‘Mr. Turner’’ in North America in December, positioning it for an awards-season push. Right now, it’s in the hunt with 17 other films for Cannes’ top award, the Palme d'Or.

Leigh won the award in 1996 for ‘‘Secrets & Lies,’’ which co-starred Spall.

Leigh is famous for a filmmaking style that relies on improvisation-heavy rehearsals rather than a script. It’s an approach that’s often elicited acclaimed performances, including Sally Hawkins in ‘‘Happy-Go-Lucky,’’ Imelda Staunton in ‘‘Vera Drake,’’ and David Thewlis in ‘‘Naked.’’

The director had long desired to make a movie about Turner, and focused his meticulously researched film on the last 25 years of Turner’s life. The painter died in 1851.

Two years before beginning rehearsals, Leigh urged Spall to train his painting skills in preparation for the role. For Spall, Turner was ‘‘a painter of the sublime’’ who instinctually saw ‘‘the beauty and the horror of nature,’’ even if he appeared to be a humble, somewhat brutish working-class man.

More often than not in the 2½-hour film, Spall’s Turner expresses himself with nothing more than a grunt.

‘‘The grunting grew organically out of this incredibly instinctive, emotional, autodidactic, intellectual man who had a billion — a zillion — things to say but never said it,’’ said Spall.