This is a charming first love story, different in that the first love is Marilyn Monroe and her suitor is a third assistant director (a glorified gofer) on her 1957 picture The Prince and the Showgirl. The picture co-starred and was directed by Laurence Olivier, who is played by Kenneth Branagh. Branagh was fine and nominated, though I’m not sure deservedly so. His primary posture is one of exasperation.
It is Monroe who exasperates Olivier, because she is tardy, skittish, unprofessional and seemingly over-handled by her method acting coach and her business manager. Pills are used to control her. Thus, she seeks companionship and escape with the gofer, played with wide-eyed innocence but occasional steel by Eddie Redmayne (Redmayne is a little distracting – he has lips that rival the collagen-induced monstrosities of Barbara Hershey, Meg Ryan, at al.)
Williams was nominated and deservedly so. She’s a perfect confluence of beauty, sensuality, naivete’ and whore. At times, she was so stunning that you could understand the entire Monroe worship.
Best, the story is sweet but not sugary, and economical. It also has a great sense of time and sports some nice supporting turns by Dominic Cooper and Toby Jones as her weasel management and especially Julia Ormond as Olivier’s aging and jealous wife at the time, Vivien Leigh. Leigh is obviously wary of Olivier working with Monroe which results in a great exchange with the smitten gofer:
Of course, Larry would never leave me. (Pause) But, if anything were to happen, you would let me know, wouldn’t you?
I’m sure he loves you very much.
There is a flash of sudden anger in her expression.
Oh, don’t be such a boy!
COLIN looks shaken and she touches his hand in contrition.
At least you still adore me, don’t you?
Of course. Everyone does.
There is a wintry bleakness in her face for a second.
I’m 43, darling. No one will love me for much longer. Not even you.
To the extent there is a weakness in the picture, however, it is implicit in the character of Monroe and not the film. Monroe is so iconic as to be both beguiling and ridiculous. Her end was tragic and elicits the syrup ladled out by Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” (which can be dusted off and updated for a Princess Di and had Elton and she been friends, probably Anna Nicole Smith). Luckily, we are spared the cruelties that lay in store for Marilyn, but the film does take for granted her absolute boundless and radiating talent.
It’s a tough sell. Monroe was beautiful and seductive and had the ditzy blond bit down pat. But had she not been such a notorious pain in the and piece of ass, vexing Olivier and Gable and bedding DiMaggio, Miller and two Kennedys, would she be the goddess of today or . . . Anna Farris?