Set against the backdrop of the 1911 coronation of King George V, the film stars Olivier as Prince Charles, a strict Ruritanian regent, and Monroe as Elsie Marina, a fun-loving American showgirl. Before long, Elsie becomes involved not only in a royal romance, but in some international intrigue which could lead to a world war.
Twenty-first-century audiences may know this movie best as the Film Within a Film in My Week with Marilyn. Coincidentally, My Week With Marilyn was released in 2011, exactly a century after the 1911 setting of The Prince and the Showgirl.
This film provides examples of:
- Avoiding the Great War: Carpathia is in the Entente Alliance, but the underage King Nicolas is pro-German. Impatient to assume power, he plots with the Germans to oust the regent, an action which could lead to World War I starting three years early. Elsie prevents this from happening by mending the relationship between Prince Charles and King Nicolas.
- Defrosting Ice Queen: Defrosting ice prince, more like.
- Ice regent to be precise.
- Easily Overheard Conversation: Nicholas (the sixteen year old king of Carpathia) has an entire conversation in front of Elsie about his plans to overthrow his father with German help—and while it is in a different language, it also happens to be one that Elsie speaks...
- The Edwardian Era: Technically, it takes place during the coronation of King Edward's successor, but still.
- Extremely Short Timespan: The movie takes place over the course of three days, specifically June 21 to June 23 of 1911
- Can't Hold His Liquor: Elsie gets drunk on what the Regent claims is the normal amount of vodka to add to a four-year-old child's morning milk. Thing is, so does he...
- Curtain Camouflage: Mild version, as the Regent is in a different room but peers out the window as Elsie talks to her friends from the next balcony.
- Grande Dame: The Queen Dowager, played by Dame Sybil Thorndike
- High-Class Glass: Prince Charles wears one
- Hypocritical Humor: The Regent repeatedly criticizes Elsie for the things that he promptly does himself.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Elsie
- Naïve Everygirl: Elsie
- No Sense of Humor: Elsie tells her friends that the Regent has no sense of humor. When he confronts her on this, she modifies it to being a "Carpathian" sense of humor: just as good, but...different.
- Only Sane Man: Poor Northbrook
- Ruritania: Prince Charles is the prince regent of a fictional Balkan country called Carpathia, presumably named for the Carpathian Mountains.
- Running Gag: Elsie making the Regent pin his farewell-gift brooch to her dress....every time she's about to leave.
- Savvy Guy, Energetic Girl: Prince Charles is savvy, Elsie is energetic.
- Smarter Than They Look: Elsie might be a ditzy understudy theatre girl, but she isn't dumb.
- Uptight Loves Wild: Prince Charles is uptight, Elsie is wild
- Woman in White: Elsie wears a white evening gown throughout the movie. Somewhat lampshaded by the Queen Dowager, who finally tells her it might be OK to wear other colors now and again.
- You Are Grounded: The Regent grounds his son (the King of Carpathia) on learning that he's put a clandestine call through to the German embassy.