Saturday, March 3, 2012


This adaptation of Colin Clark's memoir THE PRINCE, THE SHOWGIRL AND ME chronicles the writer's experience of falling under the charms of Marilyn Monroe while working on his first film, THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (then called THE SLEEPING PRINCE), as third assistant director. Michelle Williams gives an Oscar-nominated performance as Marilyn, Kenneth Branagh is Laurence Olivier, Julia Ormond is his aggressively wrinkled wife Vivien Leigh (who originated onstage the role Marilyn is playing), Zoë Wanamaker is Marilyn's method acting coach Paula Strasberg, and Eddie Redmayne is Clark.

Perhaps I went into my viewing of the film disabled, because I haven't seen that 1956 production, but this feature debut by television director Simon Curtis seemed to me deficient in authenticity. There are real, rough emotions present in the characters and in the story -- Vivien's anxiety over being replaced in character and in her husband's emotions, Olivier's attraction to Marilyn as it becomes revulsion, Colin's first heartbreak, even the violent anger felt by Marilyn's associate David Orton (who cautions Colin jealously about being emotionally abused by her) as this new set romance makes him feel replaced in her affections once again, and the hurt felt by Colin's girlfriend Lucy (Emma Watson, who gives the film's best performance in a nothing role) as she sees his heart go starstruck -- but they all feel a step too remote, too sweetly nostalgic, too wholesome (despite the occasional spitting of f-words), to be felt or believed.

I think there is also something subtle at play here to do with the value of mainstream films versus cult films. Somehow it makes sense to recreate the backstory of something like BRIDE OF THE MONSTER in Tim Burton's ED WOOD because this cuts right to the heart of our love for movies, the occasional indignity of acting, and the quixotic drive to produce a movie, any kind of movie; to do the same with a picture like THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (remembered as a failure even by devotées of Olivier and Monroe), involving accomplished performers and a film that doesn't particularly elicit our love or sympathy, doesn't carry the same impact, despite its potentially intriguing conflict of a great actor who wants to become a film star crossing swords (and a disappointed libido) with a film star who wants to become a great actor. No one here is examined to the point of embarrassment; only Vivien Leigh comes close, yet she's the one character who retains her essential human dignity throughout. Overall, I'd rate this average for a made-for-TV movie, and it doesn't make much impression as a theatrical feature at all.

Viewed on Weinstein Company Blu-ray/DVD combo

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