"Trying to teach Marilyn how to act is like trying to teach Urdu to a badger," rages Laurence Olivier in Simon Curtis's frivolous drama about the brief relationship between third assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) on the set of Olivier's stinker The Prince and the Showgirl.
The Oscar-nominated Williams delivers a bold, uncanny turn and manages to capture the neurosis and foibles of the damaged movie star, but this feels like Kenneth Branagh's film, as the acidic and melancholy Olivier. The main plot falls a bit flat by comparison. Well-heeled Colin is a bit of a disappointment to his aristocratic family; he's the "youngest in a family of over-achievers" and he's idly determined to get into the movie industry. He inveigles himself on to Olivier's film, where he witnesses the vast disparity in technique between English thespians Olivier and Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) and Monroe's method acting. The needy actress is consistently late on set, forgets her lines and requires her acting coach, Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker), always by her side. This is a perfectly serviceable period piece, helped by a host of great British acting talent (Dominic Cooper, Toby Jones and an affecting Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh), but the central plot leans perilously close to Notting Hill, wish-fulfilment froth... More Olivier and Monroe, and less Colin needed.