The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) didn't distinguish the résumés of either Marilyn Monroe or Laurence Olivier (who both starred and directed). But it did mark a highpoint in the life of 23-year-old Colin Clark. He worked on the production as a gofer but, at least according to his kiss-and-tell-memoir, he became something more than that for the troubled actress.
In adapting Clark's book, TV and theater director Simon Curtis doesn't develop it into much more than an amusing cinema footnote. Unlike his cast, who for the most part transcend the material. The physical resemblance might be dubious, but Michelle Williams portrays Monroe like Monroe might have portrayed herself, especially as coached by her on-set Method Svengali, Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker). In other words, from the inside out. She gives us not just the Monroe of the adolescent fantasy but the one who reads Ulysses and recognizes that her husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), despite his denials, is exploiting and demeaning her in a work-in-progress.
And Kenneth Branagh plays Olivier the way that Olivier might have done so himself — from the outside in. He's got the voice, the condescending charm, the vanity, insecurity, and gnawing melancholy down pat. It's a brilliant mimicking of one of the screen's great mimics. Together he and Williams recreate this disastrous collaboration with ruefulness and humor, and their performances provide a better comparison of the two acting philosophies than did the original 1957 film.
Meanwhile, Colin, played unappealingly as a pasty-faced twit by Eddie Redmayne, becomes the unlikely love interest. As Olivier grows exasperated by his star's absences, lateness, flubbed lines, and instability, and Monroe drifts deeper into pill-addled isolation, Colin ingratiates himself with the actress, his seeming innocence and aristocratic airs offering her a diversion, if not a refuge. It's similar to Richard Linklater's Orson and Me, though with less insight. Except for scenes like the one in which Branagh's Olivier looks at the rushes of a bad day of shooting, and a glimpse of tragic beauty shines through.