Simon Curtis | 95 mins | TV | 2.35:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R
1956: global superstar Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) comes to England to star opposite Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) in his latest directorial effort, The Prince and the Showgirl. Midway though production, the troubled actress goes AWOL with young production assistant Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) in this true story based on the latter’s memoirs.
In many respects, this is an actors’ film, not least because everyone’s playing a real person. Michelle Williams thoroughly earns her multiple award noms (and Golden Globes win) by expertly capturing the different facets and nuances of Marilyn’s complicated character. In a case of life imitating art, the end credits suggest she couldn’t have done it without a small army of voice, acting, and movement coaches.
Kenneth Branagh does what the crueller critic might say he’s been doing his whole career: emulates Larry Olivier to a tee. Perhaps unexpectedly, it’s a showier performance than Williams’, what with a clipped period accent, random Shakespeare quoting, and mood swings between charm personified and frustrated anger.
Eddie Redmayne makes for a likeable enough lead, even when you know his character is making some plainly foolish decisions. Even he can’t sell some clunky opening and closing expositionary voiceovers, though. Meanwhile, Judi Dench is the personification of loveliness as Dame Sybil Thorndike. After harder-edged roles like M and Barbara Covett, it’s nice to have Dame Judi being nice again, a trait one feels comes naturally to her.
The supporting cast is a veritable who’s who of recognisable British faces, stars of screens both big and small. Barely a speaking part goes by without an actor you’re certain to recognise. I’d list them but, honestly, there are far, far too many. Despite Marilyn coming with a hefty entourage, Williams is the only American in the cast, meaning American accents are lumbered (to varying degrees of success) upon Zoe Wanamaker, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, and Dominic Cooper. Hey, of course Dominic Cooper’s in it — is it even legal to make a mid-budget British movie without him now?
Somehow, these performances (plus the writing (by Adrian Hodges of TV series like The Ruby in the Smoke, Survivors, and Primeval) and directing, of course) gel to make a film that is both very funny and dramatically affecting. It was, I must admit, significantly better than I was expecting.