The royal treatment

This past weekend, my husband and I watched My Week with Marilyn (2011), an adaptation of Colin Clark’s chronicled week with Marilyn Monroe as she filmed The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier in 1956. This was by all accounts a tense set.

We were so surprised — and pleased — when a reel librarian showed up. And a royal librarian at that! I can confirm hand-clapping and shouts of glee in the Snoek-Brown household.

So almost an hour into the film, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams, so well-deserving of the Oscar nomination for her channeling of Marilyn) plays hooky with Colin (Eddie Redmayne) for a fun-filled afternoon, romping through parks and the lawns of Eton College. After Marilyn asks what’s next, he suggests Windsor Castle, a formal residence of the Queen. And you KNOW how anything royalty-related is like catnip to us Americans.

Let’s listen in as they attempt to get into Windsor Castle (see above). The British bodyguard starts us off:

Smith:  Detective Chief Superintendent Smith. I’m escorting this lady and gentleman for the day. They’d like to look around the castle.

Security guard [not having any of it]:  I need a contact name for the book.

Smith [to Marilyn]:  You don’t know Her Majesty, by any chance?

Marilyn:  Yes, we met at a movie premiere. She said my dress was pretty.

Security guard:  I don’t think that quite does it, sir.

Colin:  My godfather works here. He’s the royal librarian. Sir Owen Morshead.

And they’re in! Name-dropping a librarian gets them into the Queen’s castle. Let me repeat that, for full effect. Name-dropping. A. LIBRARIAN. Gets. Them. Into. The. QUEEN’S. Castle. I’ve never been prouder.

As the pair humbly walk into the royal library, we get a lovely overhead shot. It’s all red leather and dark wood. (Click here for more info and pics about the Royal Collection.)

Then we meet the Royal Librarian himself, Sir Owen Morshead, as played by Sir Derek Jacobi. Here’s a side-by-side comparison.

Sir Owen Morshead

Sir Derek Jacobi as Sir Owen Morshead

Except for the difference in facial hair, the resemblance is quite decent. Jacobi seems to capture the twinkle in Morshead’s demeanor, and both look quite distinguished and dapper in their suits and ties. The real Morshead (1893-1977) served as Royal Librarian from 1926 through 1958.

Sir Owen is quite pleased to see his godson, greeting him with, “Colin, my boy! Come in! Forgive the dust.” And with only the time it takes for another breath, Sir Owen immediately starts charming Marilyn (see right).

Sir Owen:  Oh, you are very pretty, my dear.

Marilyn:  Oh [obviously pleased]. Gee, I’d sure like to read all these books.

Sir Owen:  Well, luckily, one doesn’t really have to. A lot of them just have pictures in.

Then he shows them some priceless sketches and drawings of famous artists, including Holbein (a sketch of a daughter of one of the king’s courtiers) and Da Vinci (mentioning Mona Lisa, the “lady with the funny smile”). Love the detail of the white gloves for handling archives!

After impressing her with art, Sir Owen smoothly seizes the opportunity to name-drop the Queen. Clever librarian.

Sir Owen:  The Queen’s sorry to have missed you.

Marilyn: Really? [eyes wide]

Sir Owen: Oh yes, why she was only saying to me the other day, ‘What must it be like to be the most famous woman on earth?’

Sir Owen then provides the icing on top of the cake, by showing them into a room with a lovely, intricate dollhouse. Marilyn swoons over it and makes believe the family inside is her family. She seeks Sir Owen’s permission to touch (see below), and he affirms her wishes with a smile, “Yes, of course.” The last shot we get of the Royal Librarian is one of him smiling, obviously pleased at a woman’s girlish delight.

Note:  The dollhouse is known as Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House, built by British architect Sir Edwin Lutyens between 1921 and 1924. You can explore the dollhouse online here.

Although only a couple of minutes long, this is a lovely scene, due mostly to Jacobi’s reel depiction of a notable real librarian. An Information Provider, certainly, but one with real kindness and heart. Sir Owen says all the right things to make the “most famous woman on earth” feel special and at home in a queen’s palace. He flirts a little, shows her a picture of the daughter of a king’s courtier (this resonates, because we later find out she has never known who her father is), and a doll’s house (so she can imagine a family). He fulfills her need to be admired and loved and listened to, without even knowing it. And looks mighty dapper doing it!

And BONUS:  Perhaps you were wondering what Marilyn Monroe was wearing when she met Queen Elizabeth II? You KNOW that’s the first thing I looked up. 🙂 Enjoy.


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