“You know, you do need more love in your life.” — Elsie to Charles
The futility of efforts to stave off a devastating world war: this is, ironically, the fairy-tale fantasy lending such poignancy to Laurence Olivier’s lovely, very funny, ultimately sad and moving The Prince and the Showgirl, adapted by Terence Rattigan from his play The Sleeping Prince. Repeating the role he played on stage opposite wife Vivien Leigh, Olivier expertly (if theatrically} plays Grand Duke Charles, the Prince Regent of Carpathia, a fictitious Balkan country, who is residing at the Carpathian Embassy in London for the occasion of the coronation of George V. It is 1911. Charles, who is brutal and authoritarian, currently rules Carpathia while King Nicolas waits on his majority, but the reformist boy is plotting a coup with the help of the Bulgarian army. (Organized riots are already transpiring back home.) Unlike Charles, Nicolas is pro-German.
Marilyn Monroe, whose production company financed the elegantly photographed film (Jack Cardiff is the color cinematographer), plays Elsie Marina, a patriotic American showgirl whom Charles invites to the Embassy for dinner and (clumsy!) seduction. The tables turn, however, and Elsie becomes the aggressor. Learning about Nicolas’s political intentions, she even aims to reconcile Nicolas and Charles.
Monroe delights, such as when Elsie breaks into an impromptu dance alone and in secret—until Nicolas interrupts. This follows one of Olivier’s most heartfelt shots, on the morning of Coronation Day: Elsie at an Embassy window, the camera at her back (Monroe’s neck adds to the beauty of the shot), as she watches a straggly procession of British citizens passing by—seemingly carefree and excited over the current occasion although, symbolically, heading into a terrible future.
It is unfortunate that Monroe, ambitious beyond her considerable charms, made Olivier miserable on-set. Onscreen, however, they both come magically through.
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