Michelle Williams has found her Best Actress entrée. She is shimmering beautiful, translucent, lost yet strong, everything we think of when we picture Marilyn Monroe, struggling between the reality of her sexpot status and her dreams of winning respect as a classical actress and an enlightened woman.
Williams is nothing short of eerie in the role, and clearly gave a lot of herself to capture the look, the walk, the delivery, carriage and fleeting quality of her eyes just right. She reflects Monroe’s apparently seething emotions and confusion, and that layer of druggy nowhere-ness. Williams is a phenomenal actress, imbued with depth and intelligence.
The story takes place in 1957 in London and Pinewood Studios where Monroe filmed The Prince and the Showgirl for Marilyn Monroe Productions. It was her company’s most ambitious project, and they had secured Sir Laurence Olivier to co-star with her and direct. Unfortunately, Monroe’s “method” training, so foreign to Olivier, her instability and the influence of her coach Paul Strasberg troubled the shoot from the get go.
Monroe was famously late to arrive onset and sometimes just didn’t show up. She was drugged, depressed, fearful or unprepared and production would be shut down for hours, bringing Oliver to the end of his tether. He was unkind to her and she would retreat further. Olivier had little use for her, until he saw her dailies.
Colin Clark was a third assistant director on the film, a rich kid who wanted to be in the film biz, who simply waited outside Olivier’s office till he got the job. Monroe took a liking to him and when her husband Arthur Miller was stateside, had him by her side around the clock.
He was just 23 at the time. He kept a diary, wrote a book and co-wrote this screenplay; one can only imagine what havoc that historic friendship played in his life.
Curtis lets the story tell itself as its own pace, and offers breathing room for the frantic dictatorship of Olivier. When Marilyn breaks free for an afternoon in country, it feels free. It’s part of his explication of Monroe’s world, in which she could never operate like a normal person. She tries to go shopping only to be turned back by an adoring mob.
She is always watched and judged for her appearance, habits, professionalism and it seems her breathing, for being Marilyn Monroe.
It’s a jewel of a film, set in the luxe world of high toned movie making with the biggest stars of their time. Everything is beautiful, the reproduction set of the film, the countryside, and mansions and inside Windsor Castle where they go a peek. It feels exotic, especially with Monroe planted in the frame.
Again, Williams deserves the highest praise for her performance. She continues to outdo herself and given the near impossible task of bringing the most famous woman in the world of the time to life, her triumph is total.
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Written by Adrian Hodges, Colin Clark
Directed by Simon Curtis
Opens: Nov 23 US
Runtime: 101 minutes
MPAA: Rated R for some language
Country: UK / US