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‘Marilyn’ charms

Marilyn Monroe is still one of the best-known actresses in the worldand yet Michelle Williams manages to bring something new to someone wethought we knew so well.

Based on two books by Colin Clark, The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn, the movie’s main character isn’t Monroe, but Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the third assistant director on The Prince and the Showgirl starring Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Monroe. It was the summer of 1956 and Clark was a 23-year-old who, like the rest of the planet, was smitten with Monroe. The two form a bond, and for a few days it looks like his love for her might actually be reciprocated.

Ratings:

Richard: ***1⁄2

Mark: ***

Richard: Mark, almost 50 years after her death, Marilyn Monroe is still one of the best-known actresses in the world and yet Michelle Williams manages to bring something new to someone we thought we knew so well. Even though I liked this movie and thought that Monroe’s off-screen life, as dramatic as anything she ever did on screen, is tenderly portrayed, the story isn’t as interesting as the performance. What did you think?

Mark: This movie is definitely NOT the Marilyn Monroe biopic. It’s a small, charming film about the havoc the sexiest woman in the world can have on those around her. The movie’s fabulous first half sets up the characters, milieu, and conflicts, but then doesn’t have anywhere to go. So the story is weak, as you say, but its pleasures are in the fine details, including Michelle Williams’ amazing portrayal of Ms. Monroe, and the wonderful sense of time and place on a film set circa 1956. And I’ve never seen Kenneth Branagh better!

RC: Branagh is very good, but when placed against Williams’s Monroe his work seems to lack the soul she brings to every frame of film. He does have many of the film’s best lines, however. His delivery of lines like, “Trying to teach Marilyn to act is like teaching Urdu to a badger,” is letter perfect and adds much to the movie but I think the Oscar nomination here will go to Williams.

MB: The movie belongs to her, no question. But there are so many finely etched smaller parts that flesh out the movie. Judi Dench as the regal Dame Sybil Thorndike and Zoe Wanamaker as prickly acting coach Paula Strasberg are both exceptional. But why was the Arthur Miller part so underwritten? And were you impressed by Eddie Redmayne as the boy who becomes a man?

RC: His story should have been titled The Week I Almost Made It with Marilyn. It might have spiced up his role a bit. He’s good, I think, but when Williams and Branagh are on screen he disappears. He’s a main character but unfortunately for him he’s saddled with a quiet role in a movie filled with bravura performances.

MB: I thought the movie was quite funny in places, by the way; the clash of acting styles between the Brits and the Yanks made for good fun, as did Branagh’s growing exasperation with his star. But the abrupt turnaround at the end of the movie where he gushes over Marilyn’s “natural, intuitive talent” seemed forced and false.