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Norma Jeane Goes to England
by Jon Schuller

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The Prince and The Showgirl

The Prince and The Showgirl
Talk about culture shock. In 1956 Marilyn Monroe was invited to make a film in England with (Sir) Laurence Olivier. The great British actor admired her talents and what he viewed as her abilities as a comedienne; her beauty was undeniable. It had a working title which eventually became The Prince and The Showgirl. The events of a tumultuous week of filming are presented in the recently released My Week With Marilyn. It is based on two real-life books by English Colin Clark who was an assistant on the set while filming in 1956. I recently saw this film.

Right off the bat I like the idea that two utterly famous (and very different) screen icons not only met in real life but were working together to make a movie. Sir Laurence Olivier was a household word in 1956 and had been a stage-and-screen actor for many years when he invited Monroe to England. He had his own production company turning out his favorite stories from Shakespeare. As an actor and a director Olivier strove for perfection in every aspect; he expected
The iconic Marilyn Monroe

The iconic Marilyn Monroe
nothing less from his actors. Monroe's obvious physical appeal was world-wide, her fame from movies starting in the late 1940's. By 1956 she was the most famous (and photographed) woman in the world. Her on-screen appeal as sexy and maybe innocent was repeated throughout several films. But there was a real actress underneath the persona and Monroe strove to overcome her inner conflicts to prove she could act. Films like Niagara, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Bus Stop and the iconic Seven Year Itch showed her talents for acting, singing and dancing. This apparently empty-headed blonde was really quite smart. This is certainly not a unique story for Marilyn Monroe; many women in Hollywood suffered the same fate and had to run the gauntlet of criticism and poor reviews. Morals were different and the exploitation of women wanting to become movie stars was (and quite possibly still is) rampant. The truly serious actresses had to fight to get to their stardom. To achieve independence was an uphill fight against the Hollywood star
Perfection in an imperfect world.

Perfection in an imperfect world.

Michelle Williams portrays Marilyn Monroe, Kenneth Branagh portrays Laurence Olivier, Eddie Redmayne is Colin Clark and Judi Dench is Dame Sybil Thorndike. Miss Williams has captured not only Monroe's physical attributes and distinctive voice, but more importantly, she shows us the delicate and vulnerable sides Monroe wrestled with in private her whole career. The scenes with the young assistant, Colin Clark, capture the almost fairytale-like relationship between a novice in the movie business and the most famous female star of her day. The close-ups of Ms. Williams give us exact glimpses of the turmoil and pain inside Monroe. The apprentice, though na´ve, quickly shows a mature understanding side as Monroe reaches out to him instead of the adults on the set. Kenneth Branagh does resemble the great Olivier and has been able to capture the singular voice and accent of the famous actor. Olivier also wrestled with his inner demons about the "twilight" of his career and his oft-rumored romantic
The hype was just beginning

The hype was just beginning
liasons (while married to Vivien Leigh). Dame Judi is perfectly cast as the great Sybil Thorndike, who played the Queen Dowager in the film.

The original film was released in June, 1957 to less-than-good critical and financial acclaim. Maybe for 1957 audiences the story or its actors was too much of a stretch even for those times. My Week With Marilyn shows a clash of cultures and personalities. Monroe came out of the Hollywood movie factories and Olivier, quite the opposite: The Royal Shakespeare Company, The Old Vic Theatre and dozens of live stage performances where he honed his craft and gained the reputation as the world's greatest actor. England had movie studios of course but its acting traditions had taken a very different (and older) course than America's.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film on many levels. Its historical and personal stories are real and it's fun to go back in time to a different era, a different country and watch as the British and American "cousins" meet and try to work together.

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Mike Thomas
Jan 12, 2012 12:56 AM
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If you want to take a walk on the wild side, there's a movie called INSIGNIFICANCE that supposes a meeting of Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein the night of her death.

It's completely fictitious, but Theresa Russell never looked better.

Great column, Jon!
Jan 12, 2012 8:41 AM
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I'll look for it. Reminds me of I.Q. with Tim Robbins which was a lot of fun. Thanks for all your support, Mike.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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