15 / 2011 / Drama / Cast: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh
Screenplay: Adrian Hodges / Director: Simon Curtis
Plot: Colin Clark is hired as a new production assistant at Lawrence Olivier Productions, just prior to the start of filming on The Prince and the Showgirl, starring Marilyn Monroe. From his own perspective, Colin recounts the ego’s and interactions on set, as well as the unexpected relationship that develops between himself and the troubled, but equally iconic, actress.
Ask anyone who has seen a film starring the late Marilyn Monroe whether her widely touted iconic status is justified, and you are likely to be met with resounding positive response. Ask whether this adaptation – of a somewhat autobiographical take on the events surrounding the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956 – can be equally as engaging for its audience, and the response you get may not be such a straightforward one.
That is not to say there isn’t plenty to enjoy about My Week with Marilyn. Cinephiles – and especially those trying to break onto the film industry scene (no pun intended) themselves – will likely revel in Colin Clark’s (Redmayne) spirited and slightly comic attempts at landing his first production assistant job on Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) new film. Then once he’s in, we see the very real and frank nature of what it’s actually like to work as a minion on a film shoot; from shepherding vehicles into the studio lot and chasing after script pages, to making tea and being shouted down to by the prop master for moving a chair on set. Although there are no special effects people or massive 3D cameras to be seen (this is the 1950’s after all), it’s still a fascinating portrayal of how the whole process works.
Then there is the lady herself. Michelle Williams is incredibly captivating as the central character. With the ability to elicit every part of what it means to be the most naturally talented, and yet impossibly tortured soul; Williams performance would be enough to draw out both Monroe die-hards and newcomers in their droves. Yet it doesn’t stop there, as the supporting cast is packed with enough English talent to make even a Harry Potter casting agent feel queasy. If this is Williams’ show, then Kenneth Branagh’s Olivier steals it outright. As someone who has never actually seen a Lawrence Olivier film (or Marilyn Monroe, shamefully), this reviewer feels ill-equipped to gauge just how closely both these lead characters compare to their real-life counterparts. However, what is clear is that in lesser assured hands, the portrayal of Olivier could easily have turned into pompous chest-blowing, where Lawrence is seen as nothing more than being jealous of Marilyn’s talent and threatened by his own aging exterior. Instead, it teeters on the right side of passion, where we have a man who knows what he wants and how he thinks it should be achieved, but is wracked by the frustration of working with a woman who, while obviously talented, has very different ways of extracting her performances. This relationship is summed up brilliantly by Clark who says that “Marilyn Monroe was a movie star who wanted to be a great actress, and Sir Laurence Olivier was a great actor who wanted to be a movie star”, and therefore it would never work for either for them.
The three main players aside, it is good to see the rest of the cast making the best of their very small roles. Chief among these is Judi Dench, whose firm but equally sweet-natured Dame Sybil Thorndike is a breath of fresh-air within the filmmaking vat of swelled egos and power players. That said though, using solid English supporting actors in ‘shouty-American’ roles does seem to be a bit of a waste. Surely Dominic Cooper and Toby Jones deserve better?
Since we have already made one Harry Potter comparison, it would be remiss of us not to mention Emma Watson’s performance as costume maker/handler Lucy, whom Colin instantly takes a liking to when he first comes on set. In short, she doesn’t actually do that bad of a job. Her performance as a self-assured, world-wise girl (“I have two rules. One, you never touch the talent, and Two, I don’t date thirds”) is a good few strides away from anything she has done before, and she makes it work well. Although there was the potential for her scenes to cause an unnecessary distraction (is Hermione actually doing/saying that, oh my!), because her screen time is so brief and the central performances so powerful, she almost goes unnoticed.
Here’s the problem though. Once you take away the cinephiles and the Monroe devotees, both of whom will get there fill from either films setup or Williams’ central performance, this leaves the rest of the audience with what can only be described as a flaccid love triangle (between Colin, Marilyn and Lucy). The problem with this, is that the film is made up from not one, but two self-written books by Clark himself. “The Prince, The Showgirl and Me” is his written account of all the various goings-on during the production of the film – principally the brittle working relationship between Monroe and Olivier – and “My Week with Marilyn”, which is widely considered to be a fanciful interpretation on Clark’s part, of the little time that the two of them spent together. Therefore, one really has to question the believability of a woman like Monroe seeking solace in a man like Colin, the lack of any real threat to them spending time together, and why Lucy, who is seen as being a young woman with her own mind, seems to just stand back and let it all happen without a fight!
Alas, the average film-goer may find that there is something lacking from this not-quite-biopic but equally not-quite-fictional tale. For the rest of us though, My Week with Marilyn is a light-hearted and fancy-free insight into a woman who was as troubled as she was talented; and a good excuse to re-visit (or, in this reviewers case, simply visit) the great Monroe back catalogue.
Kyle Buxton is an independent freelance film reviewer and blogger
Be sure to check out hid blog at: Reel Lighthouse – containing movie reviews, as well as other occasional film-related insights.