Cast: Michelle Williams,Eddie Redmayne,Kenneth Branagh,Julia Ormond,Judi Dench,Emma Watson,Dominic Cooper
Director: Simon Curtis
Indian Express Ratings:****
“When Marilyn gets it right,” says a character to Sir Laurence Olivier (Branagh) in the film,”you don’t want to look at anyone else.” That’s how right Michelle Williams gets it.
It’s not an easy role,turned down,among others by Scarlett Johansson,who perhaps comes nearer to matching Marilyn physically. However,when Williams is playing one of the biggest stars of all time,you don’t look at anything else. Based on a period of her life when Marilyn was trying to reinvent herself as an “actress” rather than merely a sex symbol,the film isn’t about the star as much as about stardom. Williams brings that insecurity,hesitation to the screen,as well as the undefinable something that Marilyn brought to the screen — resulting in an actress who oscillates between unbridled joy and complete comfort with who she is and hours of spiral into self-destruction.
Branagh obligingly slips into the background,sometimes because the script demands it and sometimes inadvertently. Such is the force of Williams’s performance,getting her an Oscar nomination.
The film is based on a diary and then a book written by Colin Clark,who worked as a third assistant director with Laurence Olivier Productions during the making of The Prince and the Showgirl. It was Olivier’s first shot at direction and Marilyn’s bid to venture into “serious acting” following her marriage to playwright Arthur Miller. Olivier was old and English,Marilyn young and Hollywood. Their worlds didn’t match,though they willed these could. By all accounts,the filming was a stormy affair,with Olivier exasperated with Marilyn’s indisciplined ways and various addictions,and the actress acutely aware of her lack of acting chops compared to the Brit venerables on the sets with her.
There was also the fact that the role of the showgirl was played in the theatre version by Olivier’s wife,Vivienne ‘Scarlett O’ Hara’ Leigh,a great actress in her own right. Played by Ormond,Leigh goes out of her way to be kind to Marilyn — a fact that cuts both to the deep.
As Marilyn tries to find her way around,she turns to Clark,a newcomer who is perhaps the only one to see her with un-blemished fascination. However,in the role of Clark,Redmayne is a bit too puppy-doggish to bite. It’s him that Marilyn talks to about her lost childhood and quick growing up,and the desire to have a normal family. When she has a little girl,Marilyn says,she won’t tell her how pretty she is. “They should grow up knowing how much their mother loves them.”
Though her role is brief,Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike,who has spent a lifetime in films,also stands out. “Film sets and rehearsals,” she says,”are the coldest places on earth.” Sometimes these take out the brightest of flames.