Rating: 4 stars out of 5
Michelle Williams pushes herself to become a front-runner for Best Actress awards with her role as the legendary Marilyn in this witty and sharp biopic. It’s quite impossible for Williams, or any actress, to possess the pure star power and beauty of Monroe, but she does capture the vulnerability and gives the role the required depth.
Monroe arrives in London, together with playwright Arthur Miller, to shoot “The Prince and the Showgirl”, having already made a name for herself with “The Seven Year Itch”. It’s apparently clear that Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) has invited her across the Atlantic in order to seduce her.
Pity for him that Monroe takes a shine to the film's star-struck third assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). Despite being warned, Clark, who hails from a well-to-do family, falls for Monroe’s ‘Little Girl Lost’ act, and he spurns the attractions of wardrobe girl Lucy, played by a not-so-magical Emma Watson, to squire her around the English countryside. He gets the opportunity to see Monroe in the buff not once but twice, including a skinny dip, and even gets to do a sleepover with Monroe, but no hanky panky.
Clark, the freckled hero of the piece, pulls Monroe out of her depression and her mental block to complete the movie. Occasionally, the film comes across as one man’s tremendously tall tale about his encounters with Monroe.
Still, whatever the truth of the source, Michelle Williams’ performance is outstanding, even if she can’t quite capture the sex appeal that oozed out of Monroe so breathlessly, she does a superb job capturing the famous actress’ more vulnerable side. It takes some time to adjust to Williams playing Monroe, particularly at the beginning where there’s almost an uncanny valley moment, when one tries to adjust to the idea and accept Williams depiction, especially in the light of so many campy, overplayed Monroe portrayals that we’ve seen over the years.
Williams is aided by an able supporting cast, even if the storyline doesn’t do her, or the movie, any favours. Branagh is excellent as the conflicted and controlling Olivier, who’s caught between his desire to bed Monroe and finishing the movie, as well as his loyalty to his wife Vivien. Judi Dench has a quieter, but no less impressive role as Sybil Thorndike, who shows genuine kindness to the fishes-out-of-water Monroe and Clark. Redmayne appears constantly overeager, and he’s often grinning so widely you’re wondering if he’s auditioning as The Joker.
Director Simon Curtis does get occasionally lazy, leaving Williams to capture Monroe as glamorous or misunderstood and very little in between, and Clark as a wide-eyed boy content to bask in her glow. But Williams’ depiction of Monroe as both Goddess and Girl might leave you similarly entranced.