Dir: Simon Curtiss 2011 Cert 15 99 mins
Starring Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne and Kenneth Branagh
Sir Laurence Olivier is making a movie in London. Young Colin Clark, an eager film student, wants to be involved and he navigates himself a job on the set. When film star Marilyn Monroe arrives for the start of shooting, all of London is excited to see the blonde bombshell, while Olivier is struggling to meet her many demands and acting ineptness, and Colin is intrigued by her. Colin’s intrigue is met when Marilyn invites him into her inner world where she struggles with her fame, her beauty and her desire to be a great actress.
Review from Moving Image’s Moira Collett:
When we go to see actors portraying people we think we know it’s hard not to approach their performances with preconceived ideas; there is also the knotty question of how much the performances are interpretation and how much impersonation. The good news is that Michelle Williams as Marilyn and Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier both perform outstandingly well here. Of course Williams isn’t as amazing as the real Marilyn Monroe, but then Marilyn was so exceptional that it’s hardly surprising. She does however convey beautifully those characteristics we attribute to Monroe – a damaged personality, childlike bewilderment mixed with true star presence, and the ability to switch on her eye-fluttering, centre-of-attention persona instantly whenever a bunch of fans materialises.
The story is told from the point of view of Colin (Eddie Redmayne is well-cast here) who was the son of the great upper class art historian Kenneth Clark and thus had family connections which enabled him as a young man to get a lowly job on the film set of Olivier’s The Prince and the Pauper. In 1956 Marilyn, newly married to Arthur Miller, has been brought over from Hollywood to star in this film being made at Pinewood Studios opposite Olivier, who is co-starring and directing. Any expectation that there would be sexual chemistry between these two is swept away as soon as she arrives, however. They are both damaged and needy people in their own way, both are used to being the centre of attention. And, importantly in this context, Marilyn is a Method actress, with acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) always whispering in her ear. Olivier despises Method acting and it drives him to distraction.
Colin is officially working for Olivier, but for some reason Marilyn latches onto this wide-eyed innocent – he is a go-between who doesn’t present a threat – and they become very close for a short period of time, notably during a week when husband Miller is away. It all seems rather implausible but the story is based on the real diaries which Colin Clark kept throughout this period of his life and published many years later.
There isn’t a great deal of depth to this film but it is charming and enjoyable. The performances are really good, and as well as the leads, Judi Dench is excellent as Dame Sybil Thorndike. When it’s over you know you’ve learnt quite a bit about two of the biggest names of their generation, and enjoyed yourself along the way. It’s ideal feel-good viewing.