There are two much-hyped movies at the cinemas right now. One is a great fiction filmed in absurdly bright colours featuring cheesy dialogue, great costumes, and over-the-top acting – the other is the new X-Men movie.
Princess Grace of Monaco has been widely panned in the media(4% on Rotten Tomatoes at latest count), and when I attended today it appeared to have a purely pensioner audience that only managed to fill two rows of an extremely large theatre. The new X-Men on the other hand, is a critical and commercial success. To be fair, Princess Grace probably doesn’t deserve the panning it’s getting. Tim Roth, for instance, turns in a great performance of Prince Rainier (at points I wondered if the movie wouldn’t better have been renamed ‘Prince Rainier of Monaco’) even if he embarrassingly lapses into his native non-posh English accent at certain points.
Far from the contrasts between the two films, what interests me is how similar both movies are in their approach to things. Namely, how they both seem to be focused on a narrow series of events within the Cold War. In Monaco’s case the 1962 pseudo-conflict between France and Monaco, and in X-Men: the 1972 Paris Accords. They’re also focused in particular places where we really don’t know exactly what happened and everything was possible. We don’t really know what conversations happened within the Monaco palace in 1962 and we equally don’t have much of an idea of what was actually discussed in the private meeting rooms of Paris in 1972, but the decisions in both could have changed the world immeasurably.
Which is where the tricky time of fiction comes in for both stories. In fact, the odd thing is how BOTH movies appear to be equally fictionalised. After all, the disclaimer that precedes the Monaco movie – that ‘this film is a fiction inspired by real events’ – could presumably have been attached to the X-Men movie too (Wolverine certainly isn’t real but presumably the 1972 Paris Peace Accords were a ‘real event’).
Are we trying to reinvent certain periods in our history? There are certain reasons why we might. Both movies cover periods where our societal contradictions were beginning to look not just antiquated but just plain embarrassing. Grace Kelly, movie star, wealthy and powerful in her own right – suddenly gets to have absolutely none of these things simply because she’s chosen to get married. And then the Vietnam War, where our idea of ‘freedom’ was bombarding forests with Agent Orange and our idea of ‘democracy’ meant respecting your vote as long as you didn’t vote for a communist or a socialist.
To a certain degree both movies encourage us to imagine a new reality within both those scenarios. Perhaps Princess Grace was oppressed yes, but perhaps she also managed to become a pioneer for powerful women and actually move nation-states with her magical powers of movie acting. Or, perhaps we live in a world where the 1972 Paris Peace Accords happened but X-Men 3: Legends (thankfully) didn’t.
Are we to take each film’s box office gross as representing the reality people would prefer to have imagined happened? Or perhaps they have opted not just for the reality they prefer, but the more believable one too.