"I am very happy that Grace has found herself such a good part" - Alfred Hitchcock
Grace Kelly’s film career ended when she was 27 upon her marriage to Prince Ranier of Monaco, and thereafter she lived the life of a European Princess – atoning for her privilege by doing good works while dressed in haute couture. But not acting. A rumoured comeback in 1962 was quickly denied. And thereafter one of the most notable film actresses of her generation did not act in films. Like Garbo before her, she absented herself at the peak of her career: unlike Garbo Grace remained centre stage for life.
The wedding of the Prince and the actress was incredibly glamorous and hopeful at the time – a symbol of an alliance between an America maturing into easy sophistication with a shattered Europe reinventing itself after the cataclysm of war. Joy was returning to the nations, even if we still had rationing.
But the dutiful timeline in the V&A’s exhibition brochure tells a more melancholy story – pre 1956, classic films with Alfred Hitchcock - an Oscar for Best Actress; post 1956 – this ball and that ball; cutting this ribbon or that ribbon. And this room full of pretty frocks, so dismally failing to conjure a sense of the woman.
Post Diana and Charles we are used to examining the cracks in the magicked up veneer of "happily ever after" - the newsreel footage showing an interview with Ranier on their engagement reminds one forcefully of Charles's ominously wooden public declaration of love: "Yes, whatever that may mean". Grace acts her part to perfection but there is no screen chemistry with her prince. And the rest is couture.
Grace Kelly: Style Icon
Victoria & Albert Museum
running to 26 September 2010