Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during the production of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during the production of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during the production of The Prince and the Showgirl (1957).
I imagine there aren't many characters more difficult to play than Monroe. It must be like playing Elvis. But I'm delighted to confirm that Michelle Williams makes the impossible look easy. She has thrown herself into this part and has nailed the portrayal. Aside from the physical resemblance, Williams walks, talks and acts like Monroe. It's too early to say whether she'll win the Oscar next year, but a nomination seems a certainty.
Williams' performance is bolstered by impeccable turns by an enviable roster of the creamiest cream of British talent: Judi Dench, Kenneth Branagh, Zoë Wanamaker, Eddie Redmayne and Emma Watson. Especial mention must go to Branagh whose Olivier is impeccable. He accurately displays the legendary actor's sophistication and scurrility, and is bound to receive a supporting Oscar nod.
I loved the film's playfulness, for instance when Clark takes Monroe on a tour of Eton, followed by skinny-dipping in a cold river. The filmmakers do well to capture the craziness of Marilyn's world and the feeling of what it was like to be the most famous woman in the world. There are some lovely little touches – like the scene where Clark asks Monroe why she has a picture of Abe Lincoln by her bedside. Her reply, 'I don't know who my real father was, so why not him?'.
Eddie Redmayne, who has appeared in some big films ('The Good Shepherd', 'Elizabeth: The Golden Age') is well-cast as Colin Clark. Perhaps it's because he looks so much the underdog. He sort of represents every young man who would have killed to be in his shoes.
Clark has his eyes set on Monroe but resigns himself to the fact that Emma Watson's character, a costume assistant, is more his match. A weakness in the story, although I'm unclear of the veracity, is how underused Watson is and how readily she forgives his liaison with Monroe. Didn't girls have higher standards in those days?
Simon Curtis is yet another Englishman who has moved seamlessly from TV to cinema. His film astutely plays down the fact that Colin was brother to the even more famous Alan Clark, a former Conservative MP. Rightly so, I think. This film isn't about the minister or his also-famous diaries.
I'm glad the filmmakers didn't sacrifice the film's integrity by moulding it to be rated 12A (British certificate) to increase ticket sales. The two or three flashes of flesh are not only welcome, they are vital (Monroe said that 'the body is meant to be seen'). Curtis teases us like Marilyn was famous for doing. But he knows not to go too far by showing us any more than is necessary.
In summary, this is a brilliant biopic, as well as a story of what happened when a young man got close to the star he adored. It is bittersweet and evocative of a golden age of Hollywood. I was made to care for Monroe. I felt bad for her when she was exploited. Along with Elton John's beautiful song, this film has made me understand Norma Jeane Mortenson a little better. Now I see her as more than a sex symbol. She may have been blonde but she wasn't dumb. Dumb blondes don't read James Joyce or marry Arthur Miller, or come out with some of the wittiest lines a person can utter. She was like all of us, really: a human being.
- Dec 1, 2011