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In 1956, Marilyn Monroe came to England to make a film with Sir Laurence Olivier.  The film was The Prince and the Showgirl, based on the Terence Rattigan play The Sleeping Prince.  Monroe wanted to work with Olivier, who directed and starred in the movie, because she thought it would give her credibility as an actress, and Olivier was initially equally as keen – so much so that Olivier’s wife Vivien Leigh was worried that her husband would have an affair with Marilyn.  She needn’t have worried as it turns out; the most overwhelming feeling that Marilyn roused in Olivier was that of annoyance – at her lateness, her constant fluffing of lines, her moods on set…it’s safe to say that making the film was probably not an enjoyable experience for either of them.  (The Prince and the Showgirl is regarded as far from the best thing that either actor worked on, although I personally really liked it).

During filming, Marilyn’s recent marriage to playwright Arthur Miller already seems to be crumbling, and when Miller flies back to America, Marilyn turns to third director Colin Clark, for comfort.  The two end up spending the titular week together.  Colin Clark wrote two books about the making of the film – one of which excluded the week with Marilyn, and one of which concentrated solely on that week.  The second book is the basis of this film.  I have no idea how much of the book is truthful, and I was – perhaps unfairly – sceptical about some of the things he wrote, which made their way into this film – but nevertheless I found the film enjoyable from start to finish.

Playing Marilyn Monroe is a tall order for any actress, but fortunately Michelle Williams was up to the task.  She captures Marilyn’s mannerisms and voice very well, and more importantly, shows Marilyn as more than just the dumb blonde which she was often portrayed as.  She also demonstrates Marilyn’s extreme vulnerability and need to be liked (“Shall I be her?” she asks Colin, when they are surrounded by fans while on a day out, before breaking out Marilyn’s sexy poses and million dollar smile).

Kenneth Branagh was also brilliant as Laurence Olivier – in a cast full of brilliant actors, he stole the film for me.  I loved every one of his scenes; his exasperation at Monroe was entirely understandable – I adore her, but frankly she must have been a nightmare to work with – but he is not incapable of sympathy for her.  He also shows Olivier’s fear that he himself is getting too old for this business, and that his popularity belongs to days gone by.  I always enjoy watching Kenneth Branagh, and this is one of my favourite performances of his.

As Colin Clark, Eddie Redmayne had the unenviable task of making the audience care about someone who they had likely never heard of, when there were two characters in the film who were international stars.  I think Redmayne pulled it off.  There are other actors who probably could have done as good a job, but he was great – especially when you consider that other actors on this film included the aforementioned Branagh and Williams, as well as Dame Judi Dench (wonderful and absolutely adorable as Dame Sybil Thorndike, who also starred in The Prince and the Showgirl) and Zoe Wannaker (in a flawless performance as Marilyn’s acting coach Paula Strasberg, wife of Lee Strasberg, who is known as the father of method acting.  Strasberg’s constant presence on the set, and her undermining of Olivier’s direction proved to be another bone of contention between the two stars).

I really enjoyed seeing the scenes from The Prince and the Showgirl being acted out, and My Week With Marilyn acts as a nice sort of companion piece to that film.  Overall, great performances throughout and an interesting and touching story make My Week With Marilyn a film well worth watching.

Year of release: 2011

Director: Simon Curtis

Producers: Simon Curtis, Kelly Carmichael, Christine Langan, Jamie Laurenson, Ivan Mactaggart, Cleone Clark, Mark Cooper, David Parfitt, Colin Vaines, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein

Writers: Colin Clark (books ‘My Week With Marilyn’ and ‘The Prince, The Showgirl and Me’) Adrian Hodges

Main cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Richard Clifford

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Click here for my review of The Prince and the Showgirl.

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This film is not the first big-screen adaptation of Victor Hugo’s novel, but is probably one of the most talked about versions.  Having seen the show on stage years ago, I was eager to see the film, although I did approach with some caution, knowing that it was well over two hours long, and that there is virtually no spoken dialogue in it; this is a musical in the fullest sense of the word.

Briefly, the story, which is set in France in the 1800s, is about a man named Jean Valjean, who gets out of prison after serving a lengthy sentence for stealing bread for his sister’s baby.  He breaks parole and becomes a successful business man (and Mayor).  However, when he agrees to take care of a dying lady’s child, the decision changes his life forever.  He also has to deal with a policeman named Javert, who is obsessed with tracking down his former prisoner Valjean.

The main stars of this film are Hugh Jackman as Valjean, Russell Crowe as Javert, Amanda Seyfried as the adult Cosette (the young girl who becomes Valjean’s ward), and Eddie Redmayne as Marius, a young man who falls in love with Cosette.  Supporting roles are played by, amongst others, Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen, as Monsieur and Madame Thenardier (the cruel couple who look after the child Cosette until Valjean rescues her from their clutches); despite being unpleasant characters, they also provided a fair amount of comic relief, and Anne Hathaway, in an Oscar nominated (and deserving) performance as Fantine, Cosette’s mother.

The film is a sweeping epic, covering not just the stories of these characters, but the story of the French revolution, with the tragedy and bloodshed that it brought.  The singing, for the most part, is excellent.  Jackman and Hathaway in particular, have beautiful voices, and both brought tears to my eyes.  Jackman has been nominated for an Oscar for this role, and deservedly so.  (As I write this, the Oscars are nearly two months away, and my money is on Daniel Day Lewis winning for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln.)

As shocking as it is to me, the weakest link in this film is the usually reliable Russell Crowe.  However, that is not to say that he was not good, or that he did not play the part well – he did, but he is surrounded by people who took my breath away with their performance (In other words, the weakest link is still pretty strong!).  Crowe’s singing voice is not the best, but he holds his tunes well, and acquits himself in the role.

This is not a film for everyone – it’s sad, it requires investment from the viewer (this is not a film to kick back and relax with), and if you don’t like musicals, you should avoid it at all costs!  But I think it’s one of those films that if you like it, you will love it.For my part, I found it moving, glorious and unforgettable.

Year of release: 2012

Director: Tom Hooper

Producers: Nicholas Allott, Liza Chasin, Angela Morrison, F. Richard Pappas, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Cameron MackintoshBernard Bellew, Raphael Benoliel, Francesca Budd, Thomas Schonberg

Writers: Victor Hugo (novel), Alain Boubil, Claude-Michel Schonberg, Herbert Kretzmer, William Nicholson

Main cast: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Smaantha Barks, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anne Hathaway

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