My Week with Marilyn (2011)

25 November 2011

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My Week with Marilyn. Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier's, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of The Prince and the Showgirl.

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“No-one can embody Monroe perfectly, but Williams comes as close as humanly possible…”

My Week with Marilyn accounts the extraordinary tale of when Hollywood’s most notorious ever actress fell for a young, assistant third director when shooting a film in Britain in 1956.

Based entirely on a true story, Simon Curtis’ production documents the story of when Marilyn Monroe came to Britain to star alongside Laurence Olivier in Terence Rattigan’s The Prince and the Showgirl, only to fall for the inexperienced Colin Clark: a youngster simply learning his craft on his first ever film set.

Monroe, played by the impeccable Michelle Williams, was married to playwright Arthur Miller at the time, but when struggling to form a bond with Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on-set, she seeks refuge in Clark (Eddie Redmayne), who, as anyone would do in such a position, falls madly in love with the heroine.

It’s no secret that Monroe was incredibly difficult to work alongside, and with Olivier being ever the perfectionist, the pair failed to see eye-to-eye and the vulnerabilities in the actress are explored, as we see the other side to Monroe that we may have heard about, but not necessarily been exposed to.

The film carries a very British feeling to it, and could work equally as well as a two-part drama on the television. Even when there are American characters within the story, they are often played by British actors, such as Zoë Wannamaker and Dominic Cooper, appearing as members of Monroe’s entourage. In fact, it’s a bit of a who’s who of British talent, also featuring the likes of Emma Watson, Judi Dench and Derek Jacobi.

Yet above all the film will be noted and remembered for the fantastic performances by Williams and Branagh, at one point seeming as though the pair are desperately trying to outdo one another with a ‘who can pull off the best homage’ competition.

As Monroe, Williams is unflawed, depicting the great actress honestly and sincerely whilst avoiding the temptation of falling into stereotypes and portraying Monroe as the caricature by which she is so often represented. We saw the two sides to Monroe – the star, and the person, and both were as accurate and earnest as the other.

The problem is, Monroe is effectively unviable to perfect, as the star had a charisma and beauty unmatched by anyone ever since. No-one can embody Monroe perfectly as a result, but Williams comes as close as humanly possible, fulfilling much luminosity within the part, and just like Monroe herself, having the ability to keep all eyes on her throughout.

Branagh is also terrific as Olivier, perfecting the contradiction of personalities the great actor possessed, coming across as both an authoritarian professional, and an out-and-out diva.

However - although perhaps a side-effect of the magnificent performances by Williams and Branagh - the other characters and performers seem too bland and insignificant, merely paling in comparison. This is most evident in the character of Colin, a rather uninspiring role. However, in a sense the character’s insipidness benefits the narrative, as the more ordinary he comes across, the more improbable the romance seems to be, enhancing this particular and prominent theme within the film.

A criticism must come with the conflicting styles the film represents. At times it attempts realism and, when accounting a true story, this should really remain the case. However, at other points the film is too stylised and sensational, which could have worked, but only if it had remained consistent throughout, rather than switching between the two.

Yet My Week with Marilyn is an amiable, unassuming homage to such fine actors, and a remarkable against-all-odds love story, recounting the brief and sole visit Monroe made to the United Kingdom. You can take the girl out of Hollywood…

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