Bill Murray backs George Clooney over Elgin Marbles

George Clooney and Bill Murray Clooney told Murray the story of the film a year before he cast it

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The Monuments Men actor Bill Murray has backed his co-star and director George Clooney's view the UK should return the Elgin Marbles to Greece.

Asked by a Greek reporter on Sunday if the British Museum should hand the Marbles back, Clooney said: "That would be the right thing to do."

On Tuesday, at a London press conference to promote the film, Murray said: "London's gotten crowded.

"There's plenty of room in Greece. England could take the lead on this."

Murray said the Elgin Marbles reflected "a problem all over the world" where artefacts from other countries are on display.

The Marbles had "had a very nice stay" in the UK, he added.

Monument's Men The Monuments Men dramatises a real-life wartime story

Clooney joked he did not really know anything about the issue, following remarks in the Independent from Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee chairman John Whittingdale, who told the newspaper: "He's an American. I suspect he doesn't know why it is that Britain came to acquire the Elgin Marbles."

The film-maker and actor said: "Even in England, the polling shows more in favour of returning them. There should be an open discussion."

The Marbles were shipped by Lord Elgin to London in the early 1800s and have been in the British Museum ever since.

But the Greek government and many historians want them to be handed back to Greece.

Based on Robert M Edsel's book Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, the film dramatises the real-life story of a team sent to Germany during World War Two to try to stop the Allies bombing historical landmarks and to recover art looted by the Nazis.

'Shamelessly corny'

It features an ensemble cast including Matt Damon, Clooney, Murray, Hugh Bonneville, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin and Bob Balaban.

But many reviews have been unfavourable - its average rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website is 5.3 out of 10, and it was beaten by the Lego Movie at the US box office in its opening weekend.

Kenneth Turan wrote in the Los Angeles Times: "Earnest and well-intentioned but ultimately inert, The Monuments Men talks a better game than it can deliver."

The New York Times's Manohla Dargis wrote: "Because Mr Clooney can't figure out what kind of story this is, he too often slips into pandering mode, including in his own performance, which is filled with too many smiles and speeches."

But Richard Roeper in the Chicago Sun Times, was kinder, describing it as "engaging, shamelessly corny and entertaining".

Edsel, who was at the press conference, said he was happy to have his book dramatised for the big screen, adding: "I want to reach the broadest audience possible."

The final word went to Harry Ettlinger, 88, one of the original Monuments Men, who explained what art meant to him, saying: "We would not like life with white walls around us."

The Monuments Men is released in the UK on Friday 14 February.

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