Last night I fell in love with Marilyn Monroe. Yeah, like hundreds of guys before me, I knew it would be doomed from the start – but such is the power of Marilyn – that she has the power to break hearts 50 years after she died.
Back in 1956 Marilyn Monroe heads over to England to star in ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’ directed by and starring Sir Laurence Olivier. The film is seen through the eyes of Colin Clark – a young, newbie to the film business who not only falls for Marilyn and becomes her ‘BFF’ on set for a week but also witnesses the clash of styles and persona between Marilyn – the biggest movie star in the world and Sir Laurence – the most respected thespian.
Acting on film in the 50’s was changing. The heightened, ‘play the emotion’ type of acting was butting up against the in coming, more realistic ‘feel the emotion’ type acting led by Lee Strasberg’s ‘The Method’ and being championed by the likes of Brando and James Dean At the time, Marilyn Monroe was a superstar. But in an attempt to earn her stripes as a ‘real’ actress – she joined The Method band wagon taking on Lee Strasberg as her teacher and his wife Paula Strasberg as her acting coach and companion (played superbly by Zoe Wanamker in the film – and seemingly channeling The Incredible’s fashion designer ‘Edna E Mode’ !)
And here lies the main conflict of the movie. Sir Laurence who’s more disciplined approach to acting and belief that “the character is on the page” quickly loses patience with Marilyn’s ‘preparation’. Not to mention her constant fluffing of lines and tardiness on set. (Ironically, Sir Laurence’s wife – screen siren Vivien Leigh had a similar acting style war with Marlon Brando years previously in ‘Street Car Named Desire. She ‘won’ that one – walking away with the Best Actress Oscar. Sign of the times).
With trouble and tension mounting on the set as well as her own personal problems with her 2 current relationships: 1. New husband playwright Arthur Miller and 2. Prescription drugs. Marilyn seeks comfort in the ready arms of Colin Clark. The wide eyed, puppy dog 3rd AD – fresh from Eton played by Eddie Redmayne. Colin and Marilyn take us with them on their week long trist around England.
But don’t go see this movie for the plot – it’s simply a play within a play. If they had Blu-ray in the 50’s then this would be a Special Behind The Scenes Look on the extra features section. Go see this to have a (rose coloured) glimpse at what movie making in a bygone era would have been like; the costumes, the (now) vintage sports cars, a peek into Pinewood behind the sets. Incidentally, this movie was well timed for me, a few weeks back I was working at Pinewood – walking the halls and past the sound stages. It was too easy to imagine Marilyn, Sir Laurence and Vivien Leigh walking the same corridors they do in the film – which haven’t changed a bit in those 50 odd years. I could smell the nostalgia coming from the screen.
Oh, and go see this movie for Michelle Williams. Easily the best thing in the movie.
Thankfully, Michelle doesn’t put in an impersonation of Marilyn but seems to bottle the essence of her. She’s damaged goods with a joie de vivre that makes you not know whether you want to care of her or kiss her. Michelle seems to cover the bases with her portrayal of Marilyn. Summed up in the scene where she’s surrounded by a crowd at Eton and says to Colin “Shall I be her?”. Effectively it’s Michelle Williams playing Norma Jean playing Marilyn Monroe. And she does it beautifully.