Branagh must have had a ball doing this one. In the early stages of his career he was accused of being a young upstart in some quarters for trying to emulate Laurence Olivier by doing the remake of Henry V. What a sly pleasure it must have been for him to play the great actor in this lightweight confection. He gets the performer's clipped intonations down pat and is a delight as he becomes ever more irritated with his co-star while directing the 1957 flop The Prince and The Showgirl. And who be his co-star? Why Marilyn Monroe (Williams) of course.
Monroe appears way out of her depth working with the likes of Olivier and Dame Sybil Thorndike (Dench). She turns to pills when the pressure gets too much but takes a liking to young third assistant director Colin Clark (Redmayne), whose dairy of the film's making forms the basis for the narrative. Clark becomes infatuated with the glamorous mega-star, to the cost of his burgeoning relationship with gorgeous wardrobe assistant Lucy (Watson). Furthermore, his chaste romance with the movie star angers her business partner (Cooper), who is jealous of the attention the young swain is receiving from her.
Williams is impressive as Monroe. How can you make such an iconic character as her believable? She does so – the playfulness, confusion, flirtatiousness and vulnerability are all depicted with great skill. But it's not a barnstorming turn that shouts: "Give me an Oscar!" There's little meat here for her to get stuck into. The main focus is on the romance between her and Clark – Redmayne is ideal in the role, but it's no stretch for him. Their brief time together is conducted with chocolate box tweeness. It all looks lovely but there's no backbone to it.
The cast are all game though. Ormond is a splendid Vivian Leigh and Dench makes a touchingly sincere Sybil Thorndike while one wishes that were more time given to Branagh, who steals every scene he's in.
It's a movie that the Americans will adore. It plays up to all their preconceptions of what being British is all about – posh cut-glass accents, demure outfits, palatial settings, witty banter. And the crisp digital cinematography looks a treat. But it's a piece of fluff, a featherweight affair devoid of substance. Sweet and charming to be sure but eminently disposable.
EXTRAS ★★ An audio commentary with director Curtis; the featurette The Untold Story of an American Icon (19:06).