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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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Laurence Olivier directed this 1957 movie, and starred in it alongside Marilyn Monroe. These two screen icons may seem mis-matched, and indeed in the film they play a mis-matched couple.  However, while it may not be one of the more popular films of either of the main stars, it does have a charm all of its own.

Olivier plays the Prince Regent of Carpathia, a fictional Balkan nation, who has come to London in 1911 with his young son the King, for the coronation of King George V. The night prior to the coronation he meets showgirl Elsie Mariner (Monroe), and invites her to dinner.  However, their romancing hits a few obstacles – the Regent Prince’s preoccupation with political business, Elsie’s lack of knowledge of regal etiquette, and of course, the coronation itself.

The filming of this movie also hit a few obstacles – Olivier did not get on at all with Marilyn, and grew impatient with her moods and her tardiness.  For Marilyn’s part, she suffered a miscarriage during filming.  She also had a number of health problems, and the medication she took for them caused her weight to fluctuate (for much of the film, she wears a stunning white dress – at least three copies of the dress in differing sizes were used, in order to accommodate her weight fluctuation).  However, despite all this, the film is actually rather lovely.  Olivier is fine in his role – he hams it up somewhat, but that seems entirely appropriate for a romantic comedy such as this; but the acting honours really have to go to Marilyn Monroe.  It’s a shame that this is one of her less well-regarded films, because she really is on top form here.  Whether Elsie is telling the Prince Regent off for being unromantic, or whether she’s practising a dance while believing that she is alone in the room, or whether she is trying unsuccessfully to manoeuvre her way around various waiters after realising that she is the Prince Regent’s only dinner guest, she simply sparkles.  She looks beautiful (like always), her acting is superb and while Marilyn’s comedic skills are often justly celebrated, she displays more depth in certain scenes, and I found it impossible not to love her character.

If you are a fan of either of the stars of this film and have not yet seen this film, I recommend that you seek it out – you might be pleasantly surprised!

(This was the only film that Marilyn made outside of America, and her time in England is the subject of the upcoming film ‘My Week With Marilyn’ starring Michelle Williams as Monroe, and Kenneth Branagh as Olivier.)

Year of release: 1957

Director: Laurence Olivier

Writers: Terrence Rattigan (play and screenplay)

Main cast: Marilyn Monroe, Laurence Olivier, Jeremy Spenser, Sybil Thorndike

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Click here for my review of My Week With Marilyn.

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