MY WEEK WITH MARILYN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Simon Curtis

Stars: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Julia Ormond, Emma Watson, Zoe Wanamaker, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, Derek Jacobi.

Hollywood created a superstar, but fame was the steep price Marilyn Monroe had to pay for her image. There are lots of apocryphal stories concerning the behaviour of legendary film star Marilyn Monroe, from her messy personal life to her erratic behaviour on set. The two most famous examples of her diva-like behaviour on set concern her movies The Prince And The Showgirl (1957) and the classic comedy Some Like It Hot (1959).
It is the making of the former that is at the crux of My Week With Marilyn, which is based on the memoirs of Colin Clark (played here by Eddie Redmayne, from Like Minds, etc). Colin was the 23-year-old son of an upper class family who was set on working in the film industry, an ambition that his father thought was just a silly phase he would grow out of. Following up on a casual comment from Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) at a party, the tenacious Colin approaches Laurence Olivier’s production company hoping for a job. Eventually he lands a job as a third assistant director (ie: a glorified gofer) on Olivier’s production of a film version of the stage play The Sleeping Prince (which was eventually released under the title The Prince And The Showgirl).
Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) has hired Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), the most famous woman in the world, to play opposite him, but he gets more than he bargains for when the flighty, pill popping actress arrives. Her tardiness, her frequent absences, her insistence on following the method-acting teachings of her mentor Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), and her inability to focus frustrates Olivier, who despised “the Method”. “Teaching Marilyn to act would be like teaching Urdu to a badger,” the frustrated Olivier snaps at one point.
Olivier was a great actor who wanted to become a film star, while Monroe was a film star eager to become a great actress. But the troubled production tested both. Colin became Monroe’s confidant and trusted assistant during the production, and the star struck young man fell head in heels in love with the screen beauty.
Williams completely captures Monroe’s ethereal qualities, her emotionally fragile state, her insecurities, her self-doubt, and her childlike sexuality. She also manages to croon Heat Wave and That Old Black Magic in that same silky and sultry voice. This is a wonderful performance that should see her figure in the nominations during the upcoming awards season.
Redmayne is also very good as the naïve, virginal Colin. There’s an irony in the casting of Branagh, who has often been compared to Olivier, and he captures many of his mannerisms and gestures, and his imperious manner.
A solid ensemble cast plays some of the famous names from the era – Julia Ormond plays Vivien Leigh, Olivier’s wife, Judi Dench plays Sybil Thorndike, Toby Jones plays Marilyn’s publicist Arthur P Jones, and Dougray Scott plays playwright Arthur Miller, who briefly accompanies Monroe to England. Emma Watson (in her first post-Harry Potter role) appears in an underwritten role as Lucy, the wardrobe mistress who may become Clark’s girlfriend, if only he wasn’t so smitten with the unobtainable Marilyn.
My Week With Marilyn is the first feature film from director Simon Curtis, better known for his work on tv series like Cranford, etc, and it offers a glimpse beneath the surface of the iconic actress. Writer Adrian Hodges also hails from a background in television (Primeval, David Copperfield, etc), and he has shaped Clark’s memoir into an entertaining and occasionally acidic look behind the scenes of the film industry and the persona of one of the world’s most iconic film stars. The film offers some insights into the film industry itself, with its fascinating look behind the scenes of a troubled production. Technically, the film is excellent and production designer Donal Woods recreates both the film set and the look and feel of Pinewood Studios of the era.

***1/2

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