Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier made an unlikely pair in 1957 comedy The Prince and the Showgirl, but their differences created more sparks behind the scenes. She was a creature of instinct, deferring to 'The Method' to find her character, and he was a classically trained actor, darling, lacking the patience for all that soul searching.
Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh make it great fun to watch in this account, even if it's a little too rose-coloured as seen through the adolescent eyes of Colin Clark (the then-production runner on whose memoir the film is based).
Eddie Redmayne plays Clark with an appropriately dazed expression and in a tour-de-force by Williams, it's easy to see why Marilyn had such an effect. Apart from her obvious assets (shown here in generous proportions), Williams strikes the perfect balance between her bouncing childlike enthusiasm and the gnawing anxiety that dragged her down.
Clark is moved to protect this delicate flower from Olivier (her director and co-star) and his thunderous outbursts. He would be insufferable to watch except that Branagh spins every line into comedy gold with his Shakespearean sense of rhythm and timing. And his humanity shines through later on.
As fellow actress Dame Sybil Thorndike, Judi Dench brings a wry smile. She is just as protective of Marilyn, coming across like a scatty aunt who actually knows very well what she is doing: in this case, trying to build Marilyn's confidence. Very often, though, Marilyn is in bed instead of on the set, trying to sleep off a hangover or zonked out on pills.
It falls to Clark to try and lift her spirits and the film becomes more about his growing pains - as he's set up for inevitable heartbreak - and less about Marilyn's struggle. There's a trip to Windsor Castle and a bit of skinny dipping too, but director Simon Curtis (a TV veteran) is clearly less comfortable trying to unravel her complexities, keeping this as a backdrop instead of the focus.
Arguably, it is the enigmatic nature of Marilyn Monroe that means she still fascinates today, so it seems fitting that nobody can get a grasp on her. Williams bravely puts herself forward for the criticism that she could never fully resurrect such a legend, but the truth is that she gives more soul to the part than, arguably, Marilyn ever gave to her film roles.
Emma Watson provides the contrast as the buttoned-down wardrobe girl who has the misfortune of dating Clark when he meets Marilyn. It's a bittersweet romantic subplot, but overall this is a joyous affair that also captures the romance of the British film industry before it started to revolve around the kitchen sink. While you won't learn anything new about Marilyn Monroe, you can revel in the silky feel of nostalgia.