There's no need to head for the confectionery counter before seeing My Week with Marilyn: the film itself is a box of chocolates.
Decorated with thatched cottages and vintage cars, and sweetened with affection for the movie business, it's crammed with big-name characters and big-name actors. Michelle Williams plays Marilyn Monroe, who arrives in England in 1956 to film The Prince and the Showgirl at Pinewood Studios. Monroe's co-star and director is Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh). He's hoping to have an affair with her under the nose of his wife, Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond), but is foiled by the presence of Monroe's new husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). More problematically, she's brought along her acting coach (Zoë Wanamaker), whose Method approach drives Olivier to madness. Also on the call sheet are Toby Jones and Dominic Cooper as Monroe's managers, Emma Watson as a wardrobe mistress, and Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sibyl Thorndike, while Simon Russell Beale and Derek Jacobi turn up for the teensiest of cameos. Suddenly, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy seems a bit short of star power.
It's understandable that the screenplay should have attracted such a stellar cast. Adrian Hodges has written a terrific farce, with so many clashes between generations and cultures that Pinewood starts to resemble a dodgems track. Branagh's lordly Olivier is its highlight, loftily pronouncing that The Prince and the Showgirl will be adored "as long as mo-see-on pictures are remember-ed". If only Hodges had been as willing to poke fun at Monroe. Instead, there are too many speeches in praise of her instinctive genius, and while Williams is fine in the role – considering that she, like the rest of humanity, lacks the requisite magnetism – the film's depiction of Monroe as an irresistible siren who's actually fragile and needy (or maybe the other way around) is as familiar these days as the photo of her with her white dress aloft.
The Marilyn-worship is at its soppiest when we leave the celebs behind and spend time with the one character I haven't mentioned, the actor who's the star of the film. The "My" in My Week with Marilyn refers to Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who wrote the diaries on which the film is based. He was a 23-year-old gopher on The Prince and the Showgirl, and we see events through his rose-tinted specs, culminating in a jaunt around the Home Counties with Monroe. It's the film's least interesting sequence. You can appreciate why the mini-break would be a treasured memory for Clark, but it's tangential to the feuding under way at Pinewood. When you've got Monroe and Olivier and Leigh and Strasberg and Miller at loggerheads, you don't really need the tea boy, too.
If My Week with Marilyn is British heritage cinema at its most soothingly nostalgic, Resistance is the opposite, a stark drama that could, if seen in tandem with Andrea Arnold's Wuthering Heights, put you off country rambles for life. It's set in an alternate 1944. The Germans have occupied the British mainland, and all the male residents of a remote Welsh farming village have tramped off to become guerrilla fighters, leaving the women behind to keep calm and carry on. The question is, when the severe winter weather makes their farm work particularly gruelling, do the women accept the help of a passing Nazi patrol?
Andrea Riseborough is the heroine who's drawn to a German officer, Tom Wlaschiha. Fiercely tight-lipped, she's determined not to give anything away, and you could say the same for the rest of the film. It tells its powerful story with impressively frosty reserve, but, as a result, it could well cut itself off from an audience.
Moneyball stars Brad Pitt as Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball club. In 2002, he realises that he'll never have the budget to compete with the richest teams in the league. And so, with the aid of a nerdy number-cruncher, Jonah Hill, he delves into the statistics that the other baseball clubs ignore, and assembles a top-flight team for a bargain price. Well, $49m, anyway. In short, Moneyball is that rare sports movie that glorifies a Yale economist's spreadsheets over the intuition and experience of grizzled coaches.
Having worked miracles with a legal dispute between computer programmers in The Social Network, Aaron Sorkin was the obvious choice to turn Michael Lewis's book about Beane into a screenplay, and Moneyball certainly benefits from Sorkin's aggressively clever dialogue. But he and his co-writer, Steven Zaillian, never quite communicate how the system works, nor how it translates into an all-conquering team, preferring to fall back on humdrum scenes of Beane bonding with his daughter. Ultimately, they fumble the ball. (Readers who know the first thing about baseball should feel free to insert their own, more apposite metaphor here.)
Nicholas Barber finally sees Margaret, Kenneth Lonergen's long-delayed follow-up to You Can Count On Me
Also Showing: 27/11/2011
50/50 (100 mins, 15)
This well-judged comedy stars Joseph Gordon Levitt (above) as a young radio producer diagnosed with a rare cancer. Seth Rogen plays to type as his pot-smoking buddy, while Anna Kendrick is a trainee counsellor whose concern for Levitt may be more than professional. Unfortunately, the poker-faced Levitt has no chemistry with either of them.
Take Shelter (120 mins, 15)
A southern construction worker (Michael Shannon) is haunted by dreams warning him of an apocalyptic storm. The ominous atmosphere puts a knot in your stomach, but the ending is a let-down.
Dream House (92 mins, 15)
Daniel Craig moves to the suburbs with his wife, Rachel Weisz and their two daughters ... but maybe things aren't as perfect as they seem. Preposterous yet predictable chiller.
We Were Here (90 mins)
Five soft-spoken eyewitnesses recall the ways in which San Francisco's gay community reacted to the Aids epidemic in the 1980s. Humbling.
An African Election (89 mins)
Documentary about Ghana's 2008 presidential elections.
Definitely not a Christmas film, the gripping Snowtown tells the story of Australia's most notorious serial murders, and the deprived community they arose from. This Our Still Life is the latest from British eccentric Andrew Kotting, an avant-home-movie about life in the Pyrenees with daughter Eden.