Director: Simon Curtis
Writers: Adrian Hodges (screenplay), Colin Clark (books)
Stars: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh
Motion Picture Rating: 15
Runtime: 99 minutes
What was it about Marilyn Monroe? The most famous woman in the world by the end of the 1950’s, she beguiled everyone. We are still intrigued 50 years after her death and this film goes some way to explain the attraction. Here we have Marilyn at Pinewood Studios making The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier. It is 1956 and Marilyn is a complete fish out of water with the British cast and crew. However, even away from Hollywood she puts all on set in a spin and suffers as those close to her bully, manipulate and shape her.
There is a good line early in this film from one of Marilyn’s entourage who tells Olivier, played fantastically well by Kenneth Branagh, that he ‘has to accept Marilyn on her terms’ because if he tries to change her ‘she will drive you mad’. That’s the crux of the film. Everyone wants a piece of Marilyn, but she’s a fragile mess herself and the unrequited affections and unfulfilled promises drive everyone around her to distraction. She is always late for filming, deeply insecure and reliant on a method acting coach for direction and confidence. The coach (Zoe Wanamaker playing Paula Strasberg) clashes with Olivier and that method acting versus ‘real stage craft’ is a decent sub-plot.
The main plot regards Marilyn’s friendship with a young and naive production assistant called Colin Clark (played nicely by Eddie Redmayne). The film is based on Clark’s two books – one a memoir and the other a set of diaries. His ‘affair’ with Monroe develops from their shared naivety and fish out of water status on the set (as this is Clark’s first post university job). Monroe feels as if she can safely confide in Clark and he is simply entranced by the film star. Their friendship is warm and mostly genuine although once or twice it seems a little too Hollywood to be true.
Playing Marilyn is Michelle Williams and she is excellent. I believe award nominations flowed heavily and that’s not surprising. She more than mimics Monroe and really brings to the surface Marilyn’s fragile mental state and little girl lost essence. Backing Williams up is a fine British supporting cast – Carter, Dench, Ormond, Jones etc. – and the film is engaging. It is by no means mind-blowing, but it is highly watchable. It stands next to An Education as a small, but almost perfectly formed movie and a fine depiction of Britain of its time and our fascination with celebrity lifestyles.