First, you have to see The Prince and the Showgirl, a Warner Home Video release. It is a film that will continually make you smile. Its story is cute and its cast is legendary. Marilyn Monroe stars as an American actress with a troupe in London in 1911 when an Eastern European regent, played with an accent by Laurence Olivier, invites her to the embassy for a one night stand while visiting for a coronation. She ends up staying longer, solving a domestic problem between the regent and his son that could have upset the balance of power in Europe, and falling, for a while, in love. Based upon a stageplay with three fairly recognizable acts, the 1957 feature, which Olivier also directed, is something of a trifle, but a joyful one. Monroe is exquisite, and the 117-minute film revels in her liveliness and charm.
The picture is in full screen format only. The image is clean, fleshtones are accurate, and the embassy’s décor is gorgeous, although the colors probably aren’t as vivid as they could be. The monophonic sound has weaknesses at the upper end on some of the music, but is generally workable. There is an alternate French language track, optional English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles, text profiles of Monroe and Olivier, a trailer, and a minute-long newsreel blurb about the start of production.
Then you watch My Week with Marilyn, from Anchor Bay Entertainment; on the jacket, it looks like the movie is just called, ‘Marilyn,’ because that word is white while the ‘My Week with’ is in a nearly invisible dark blue against a black background), which is about shooting the film in London. Eddie Redmayne stars as an assistant director who eventually becomes the one member of the crew that can get Monroe, for a few days at least, to the set at a reasonable hour. The 2011 film is not about dishing dirt on the production. It is, rather, and in some ways very much like The Prince and the Showgirl, about the ephemeral nature of love. It is important, however, to have the latter film fresh in one’s mind, so that when the characters talk about how magical Monroe’s performance is, you will know in your heart that they are telling the truth, and the obscure references to minor plot points and characters in the film, easily forgotten if too much time passes, bring greater resonance to the story and the awareness the characters have of what they are creating.
With Prince and the Showgirl fresh in your mind, the first shot of Michelle Williams playing Monroe, is jarring. She seems nothing like her and woefully lacking in what is needed for the part. But then an amazing thing happens. As the film progresses, she has the opportunity to explore her character’s frailties and to toy with her manipulative skills, becoming completely and utterly the Monroe that you saw in The Prince and the Showgirl. It is a remarkable accomplishment, and it enables the film to then explore the metaphorical dynamics that have fascinated everyone who has studied Monroe and her representation of some sort of ultimate achievement in feminization. Kenneth Branagh, who has seemed to shadow Olivier his entire career, brings the sort of inside touches portraying him that add to the film’s playful pleasure, but it is Judi Dench, as Sybill Thorndike, who is truly and delightfully riveting every moment she is on the screen. Running 99 minutes, the film sustains its entertainment by gradually building the brief relationship Redmayne’s character has with the star. The film is already good enough that you care about what will happen, but if you familiarize yourself with the real Prince and the Showgirl beforehand, then the movie isn’t just a better film, it is one with more feeling and more power, enabling Monroe, channeled through Williams, to cast her spell once again.
Anchor Bay has also released Blu-ray + DVD. The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The colors are smooth and precise, particularly on the Blu-ray. The musical score is especially tantalizing on the DTS sound of the BD, with the 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound on the DVD being subliminally blander. On both, there are English and Spanish subtitles, and both have the same special features. There is a 19-minute production featurette that sells the film reasonably well, and the director, Colin Curtis, supplies a decent commentary track for the feature, talking about the performers and the personalities they were representing, revealing that the team actually found some of the real furniture that was used in Prince and the Showgirl sitting in storage in a London film studio and re-used it, praising Williams for her approach to her performance and for her singing voice, explaining the movie’s complicated logistics (Dench shot her scenes a month before the official start of production; Emma Watson shot all of her material in a very compact time frame), and revealing some of his shooting strategy. “You notice we have a lot of close-ups in this film, but I just couldn’t resist it, really, when we’ve got these actors doing these great performances. I love pushing in and pushing in.”