[originally published December 30, 2011.]
The October Vogue issue featuring Michelle Williams styled as Marilyn Monroe
If I’d observed all the rules I’d never have got anywhere.
Director: Simon Curtis
Writers: Adrian Hodges, Colin Clark (books)
Stars: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Dominic Cooper, Julia Ormond, Toby Jones, Judy Dench, Dougray Scott, Zoe Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi
This was the best acting I’ve seen in years. Michelle Williams BECAME Marilyn Monroe. What a huge responsibility it is to portray a famous sex-symbol/icon. The responsibility of being accurate and layered must have been huge. The film itself is very good. The aesthetic was wonderful. As good as the film is, it is the acting that stands out for me.
Plot: Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier’s, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of The Prince and the Showgirl.
Based on two books by Colin Clark, it depicts the making of the 1957 film The Prince and the Showgirl, which starred Marilyn Monroe (Williams) and Laurence Olivier (Branagh). The film focuses on the week in which Monroe spent time being escorted around Britain by Clark (Redmayne), after her husband, Arthur Miller (Scott), left the country.
A little on Marilyn Monroe: “… raised as Norma Jean Baker; (June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962)was an American actress, singer, model and showgirl who became a major sex symbol, starring in a number of commercially successful motion pictures during the 1950s.”
The Prince and the Showgirl is a 1957 American film.
A little on The Prince and the Showgirl: “The Prince and the Showgirl is a 1957 American film … starring Marilyn Monroe and co-starring Laurence Olivier who also served as director and producer.”
Colin Clark is an assistant (3rd director) to Laurence Olivier and this gives him a privileged vantage point to witness the shenanigans between Olivier and Monroe. Olivier is essentially fed up with Monroe who consistently halts scenes to find her character or line. He wants her to play her sex symbol image which she does but you can also see that she wants to add an extra dimension to that image.
Michelle Williams makes excellent film choices which show off her range: From Blue Valentine to My Week with Marilyn. The differences of ‘type’ in these two films are monumental. We came to know her in the television series Dawson’s Creek and she was in the acclaimed film Brokeback Mountain. She is well known as the mother of the late Heath Ledger’s daughter. “Though Williams ended their relationship in September 2007 after three years together, she is devastated by Ledger’s death.” This might be the film that propels her into stardom. She looks luminescent and her acting is stupendous. She has proven herself to be more than capable in the acting department.
Colin Clark has a thing for Monroe and as she becomes dependant on him as a confidant and trustworthy play-thing, he falls in love with her. She is newly married to the playwright Arthur Miller but she kisses and flirts with Clark. The audience might disapprove of her behavior but her ultimate goal is to be a ‘good’ wife. It is here we see a prevalent dichotomy. She often wants one thing but she apparently sabotages herself by doing the other. Not to get all Oprah on you but there is a life-lesson here – we are rarely only one thing.
It is very cool to see a ‘behind the scenes’ dramatization of an older film. This is not a documentary but its truthfulness is filtered through a story of someone who was there. This is his story contextualized by recognizable people and events.
The film dramatizes how it was made from catering to costumes – yes, it could have been more detailed regarding the production elements but the focus and story would have been compromised if this were so.
It was jarring to see Emma Watson outside of her Harry Potter role – Hermione. She was very good here but it might take a while before an audience can shake off that association. Branagh is a force to be reckoned with – as usual. He did not bring levels or layers to his character though. Redmayne brought a believable sense of naiveté and wonder to Clark. He was a wonderful foil to Marilyn’s experience and bravado.
I really liked this film. It’s not a ‘great’ film but it is very good. The period (1950s) was believable – the sets, costumes and décor were fabulous. The story, cinematography, editing, direction – all good. Williams is a stand-out. If she does not get an acting award I will be very surprised.
Critic Widgett Wells says, “Michelle Williams…let me tell you something: she was Marilyn Monroe. Or…if she’s not playing Marilyn Monroe, she’s playing what we all think Marilyn Monroe is.”
Absolutely, but do most people know that she wanted to be considered a serious actress? She was self-tortured, fragile, insecure and torn by her sex-symbol status. Williams brings complexity to an apparently knowable image. Her portrayal could have been flat and one dimensional. Instead it is a glowing portrayal of being caught by a web of stardom, of perception. Bravo!
UPDATE - Michelle Williams: Golden Globe Winner Best Actress Comedy Or Musical 2012