Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) 1957, harbouring a not so secret desire to shake off his stage image and become a filmstar, decides to employ Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) for his new Movie, “The Prince and the Showgirl”.
This was a time when a visit from one of the worlds biggest film stars would have been as alien as a martian landing in Trafalgar square. Monroe had carefully created an iconic image that her entourage, Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper), Arthur Jacobs (Toby Jones) and third husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), are keen to protect.
Unbeknown to most, without a 24 hr news cycle and the Internet, Monroe was a bundle of nerves, neurosis and pills. Bedevilled by a chronic lack of self confidence, her first faltering steps with Olivier and the production do not go well, despite the attentions of her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker).
Marilyn rarely turns up, is hopelessly late and even when on set, has no idea as to what is required. She forgets her lines, despite her desire to be thought of as a serious actress. Even with the help of older cast member Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) and Olivier’s wife Vivienne Leigh (Julia Ormond), Monroe is a disaster, an anathema to the experienced Olivier, also on directing duties.
Into this heady mix, is thrown Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) an innocent from a good rich family, desperate to break into showbiz and make his own way. Hired by Olivier’s production company for sheer persistence, he is suddenly thrown into the lion pit of competing factions, ego’s, tantrums and other general luvviness.
Despite lavish praise for minuscule acting returns, the production all but grinds to a halt as Monroe continues to falter. Clark, truly in awe of her beauty is pleasant and kind and presents no threat. Monroe immediately befriends him as the friend she so clearly needs, dragging him away from the more suitable Lucy (Emma Watson), from wardrobe.
Of course, once left alone to do her thing in front of the camera, Monroe lights up the screen and leaves more practiced actors in her wake. Why wouldn’t she, she has been acting her whole life, being Marilyn Monroe. The problem is, when she is not Marilyn, she is not sure who she is.
The screenplay then follows the diary recollections of the real Colin Clark, as the story is largely based on truth. Does Colin fall in love, of course, who wouldn’t. Is this reciprocated or is he another of Monroe’s playthings. The story can only really end one way, so the film really hinges on whether Williams can pull off the feat of impersonating or “Being Marilyn”.
An Oscar nomination for Williams would suggest she pulled it off, the praise is well deserved. Williams certainly captures the heady mix of being a sex symbol, manipulative and yet child like, sometimes all at the same time. Easy to see why anyone might become infatuated with her, especially when she was most vulnerable.
Branagh, whilst Oscar nominated is Branagh, which is not to everyone’s taste perhaps. The supporting cast are solid but this is Williams film, there is little else happening, it really is “all about her”.
Some might complain the film is shot with a softglow where reality has no place. This may be true but only intensifies the unreality of a young male nobody, suddenly befriending the most famous and sexy female film star on the planet, the very definition of surreal.
An excellent performance from Williams, far more enjoyable than one might have been led to believe.
A solid slice of movie history with likeable leads, an interesting story and an insight into a more innocent time.