Director : Simon Curtis
Starring : Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Zoe Wanamaker, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond
Running Time : 99 minutes
Cinema Release Date : In cinemas now.
People always see Marilyn Monroe. As soon as they realize I’m not her, they run ~ Marilyn Monroe
Like most people in the western world, I know who Marilyn Monroe is. I know she was a very beautiful yet troubled actress who may or may not have been having an affair with the President of the United States. I know she died in mysterious circumstances and her death, at the height of her beauty and fame, has made her an icon.
The year is 1956 and Marilyn Monroe (Williams) is the most celebrated movie star in the world. Laurence Olivier (Branagh) is the most celebrated actor in the world. Together, they are in England filming the movie ‘The Prince & The Showgirl’. Third assistant to the director Colin Clark (Redmayne), is a clever yet star struck young man who snags a job on the movie set and ultimately befriends the fragile Monroe.
An unlikely yet genuine friendship evolves (albeit very brief) and Clark becomes pivotal to the completion of filming. As he so astutely notes of the strained relationship between Monroe and Olivier, ’ It’s agony because he’s a great actor who wants to be a film star, and you’re a film star who wants to be a great actress. This film won’t help either of you.’
I am unfamiliar with the movie ‘The Prince and The Showgirl’ and with only a passing knowledge of any of the other actors portrayed in the movie, I was worried I would be lost. This was not the case but I will be trying my hardest to get a copy of the book the movie is based on. I am more intrigued than ever now.
William’s portrayal of Monroe is captivating. Her nuanced, childlike Monroe is perfection, especially when she is Marilyn the woman, not Marilyn the movie star. To watch Marilyn struggle to be who everyone wants her to be is very sad. Seeing her face light up when anyone, especially Vivien Leigh (Ormond) or Dame Sybill Thorndike (Dench) praises her acting is as breathtaking as watching her inability to function without the constant presence of her acting coach Strasberg (Wanamaker).
The movie also shows just how self-aware Monroe could be. She could switch Marilyn on and off at will. Seeing this happen before your eyes, with a knowing wink from Marilyn, is one of the movie’s greatest moments.
To observe what must surely be the birth of the sycophantic yes-man culture for movie stars is horrible. To see the all but open admittance that Monroe is kept drugged to keep her in line is sickening. As Elton John so deftly noted ‘they put you on a treadmill and made you change your name’.
Branagh’s performance is just wonderful. As an uptight, classically trained and lauded actor, he struggles with the self-absorbed Monroe. Their worlds are so different, you cannot help but wonder what on earth they were doing trying to do a movie together. He fails to see it but he is as self-absorbed as Monroe. He is just far more polite and ‘British’ about it.
The astoundingly talented support cast is completely underused. Watson’s Lucy, Clark’s other love interest, is absolutely wasted in this movie. I will note that she seems to be making the transition from child superstar to adult actor quite well. Kudos, Miss Watson.
This movie was nominated for so many awards, including BAFTA’s and Oscars, that I will not even try to list them. Every award nomination was richly deserved.
The only critique I have is that Williams could never quite capture the essence that was Marilyn on film. When we see the daily takes of the movie she is filming, Marilyn the Goddess is just not there. I suppose this is not so much a critique of Michelle but a commentary on just how extraordinary….how once in a century…. Marilyn Monroe truly was. That she still has this hold over us and is held up as one of the most beautiful women ever is amazing.
It is really very sad that this woman who wanted nothing more than love is, 50 years later, one of the most beloved women in history. A candle in the wind….