Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Prince, The Showgirl and Twee

Methinks that The Prince and the Showgirl is second only to Apocalypse Now for being as well-known for its on-set troubles as for the finished movie itself. While the world waits for somebody to write My Week with Marlon, here is a new movie about Marilyn Monroe's one and only visit to England in 1956 to make The Prince and the Showgirl during which the newlywed and most famous woman in the world did nothing but bad things for director and co-star Sir Laurence Olivier's blood pressure, went skinny-dipping in a lake and became romantically involved with the fresh-faced, young third assistant director, on his first job straight out of Oxford, named Colin Clark. Or did she.........The story is certainly a fascinating one and My Week with Marilyn presents it as an old-fashioned entertainment that is engaging and very pleasant but largely forgettable.

The film is bolstered by the stunning central performance of Michelle Williams. Faced with the ridiculously daunting task of doing justice to a star who remains as alluring now as she was in 1956, Williams's understated performance captures Norma Jean's many contradictions: her steeliness and her fragility, her pragmatism and her whimsy, her kindness and her ruthlessness. My Week with Marilyn presents a woman loved by millions for being a persona but who just wanted to be loved for the person she was, far from the dumb blonde she often portrayed. Unfortunately, the darker aspects of Monroe's life such as her increasing dependence on prescription drugs and the sycophancy of those she surrounded herself with are dealt with perfunctorily by director Simon Curtis, who seems determined for everybody and everything to be ultimately quite nice. He presents a romanticised view of not just life on a 1950s film set in Britain but also of life in 1950s Britain. Colin Clark himself is as too good to be true as the nostalgia-laden world he here inhabits.

Charismatically played by Eddie Redmayne (pictured above), Colin is agreeably sweet and gauche but a deal too wide-eyed and innocent to be believable and never once displayed the slightest hint of arrogance even when singled out to spend the eponymous week with his celebrity crush. He remained a perfect gentleman throughout the movie and the character's implausible lack of any shade of grey casts further doubt on the much-disputed veracity of his books The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn, on which Adrian Shergold based his screenplay. The movie does feature a variety of enjoyable supporting performances particularly from Kenneth Branagh as an egotistical, authoritative Olivier. Although he never quite manages to fully embody his character in the same way Williams does, the tension and tetchiness between them is palpable. Monroe's insecurities as a celebrated movie star desperately trying to prove herself as an actress are tellingly contrasted with those of Olivier as a celebrated actor trying desperately to prove himself as a movie star. But then they are both quite nice really, aren't they? I had hoped that My Week with Marilyn would be an insightful piece of cinema but it is content to be sheer escapism.

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