★ ★ ★ ★
Another new release to DVD – we are on a roll burning through 2011 movies! This one is a nostalgic look at an iconic world figure based on the supposed true events during and around the time of filming the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl.
Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the son of wealthy art historian Lord Clark, wants to leave his upper class aristocratic lifestyle and “join the circus” that is the movies. In an attempt to get his foot in the door, he moves to London and relentlessly pursues employment at the offices of Laurence Olivier Productions. Impressed with his insistence, Sir Laurence (Kenneth Branagh), the noted actor and director, offers him a position as third assistant director on his next picture which will star American screen icon, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Clark readily accepts, and is awe struck with his new found position. Monroe, who has recently married playwright Arthur Miller, arrives in the United Kingdom for filming with her entourage, which includes acting coach Paula Strasburg (Zoe Wanamaker) and management David Orton (Robert Portal). Once filming begins, the evidence of Marilyn’s many personal troubles are brought to light and her and Olivier clash regularly on set. In an effort to calm the tension and keep an eye on the turbulent Monroe, Clark strikes a relationship that blossoms into a brief romance. His time with the actress and experiences on set were documented in his memoir, of which the film was based.
Production-wise, the film is quite solid. This is likely director Simon Curtis’s biggest achievement to date, being that much of his previous work was television or smaller films, and he handles the cast of experienced British and American stars quite well. The cinematography by Ben Smithard, a new name to me, is gracefully shot and evokes the hues and tone of the era in which it recaptures during the late 1950s. The use of hard back light and classic Hollywood lighting during the set sequences is very much true to form to the era, and it contrasts quite nicely to the mood enhanced lighting during the real life scenes of Monroe’s struggles.
For me, however, where this film truly shone was in the script by Adrian Hodges, that was intriguing and never dull, and the acting by the all-star cast. Redmayne gave a good leading performance as Clark, but even still was over shadowed by the tremendous performances by Williams as Monroe and Branagh as Olivier. I’ve always been a Branagh fan and he is a perfect choice to play Olivier, being that if you look at both their careers, his has very closely mirrored and taken cue from Olivier’s. His brilliant Shakespearean work, various stints directing other genres and solid characterizations in other films like Woody Allen’s Celebrity make Branagh, in my opinion, one of the UK’s most well-rounded working actors. For this performance, he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, but lost out to fellow Brit Christopher Plummer for Beginners, a film I have not yet seen.
Now, for the real shining star of the film, Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. Whereas, Monroe was iconically beautiful, Williams is cute in a waifish sort of way. Upon seeing the trailer for this film, I really didn’t buy Williams as looking that much like Monroe. However, once seeing it, her ability to re-create the voice, mannerisms and minute details of the Monroe persona sold the part so well that it was brilliant. Williams, likewise, was nominated for an Oscar for her performance, for Best Actress, but lost to Meryl Streep’s The Iron Lady. Williams, however, at just 30 years old, I’m sure has a long and fruitful career ahead of her.
In short, this was a well made and very worthwhile film. I would highly recommend it to audiences of any demographic.