While ‘doing’ Marilyn Monroe is as easy as hitting up Fancy Shmancy costume boutique on a Saturday afternoon, actually getting inside the troubled actress’ headspace is a far more complex predicament. To this, Michelle Williams delivers a virtuous performance representing the public verse private personalities of one of the most iconic women of the 20th century. Williams brings humanity and soul to Monroe’s batting eyelids, pouting lips and endless victim ploys in a script packed with more Marilyn clichés than an imitation Andy Warhol poster.
My Week with Marilyn, directed by Simon Curtis, attempts to bring life to the diaries of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the son of art historian Kenneth Clark, who, in order to pursue his dream of becoming a filmmaker, leaves his hometown and makes his way to London so he can “run away with the circus”. Once there, he hustles Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) for work in the movie industry, after which he is eventually awarded the task of being ‘Third Director’s Assistant’/ ‘gofer’ on Olivier’s up-and-coming film, The Prince and the Showgirl. Today, we’d just call him an intern.
From the very opening scenes of the film, it is blatant that Clark displays quietly hysterical fan tendencies typical to an aspiring film-maker, and, while some may admire his persistence and commitment to his “dream”, I found his idealism exhausting. This though is a credit to Redmayne, who brought a genuine, raw sincerity to the 23-year-old’s character.
Once viewers are taken to the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, My Week with Marilyn becomes an interesting execution of embedded self-representation, as the all-star cast presented to viewers “on-set” truly are all stars. Kenneth Branagh nails Laurence Olivier – the voice, the make-up, the pompousness and the famous scorn are strikingly convicted. Judi Dench brings wisdom, laughter and humanity to Sybil Thorndike, and Julie Ormand’s illustrious performance of Vivien Leigh depicts the troubled actress’ incipient jealously and anxiety. Another stand out performance was Zoe Wanamake, who played Marilyn’s neurotic yet equally obsequious acting coach, Paula Strasberg.
While My Week with Marilyn seamlessly portrays the famous tension between the dismal, volatile Monroe and the classically trained and ever professional Olivier, any prospect of the film becoming an epic, cinematic historical costume drama is halted by the fact that the film feels very much like a made-for-TV biopic. Every time Williams was about to reveal some sort of transcendental, untold truth about Ms. Monroe, you become subject to a completely underwhelming switch to the movie’s “next episode”. Think Freeman’s Hawke. Yeah, it’s great, but the almost contrived episodic method lends itself all too well to a Sunday movie time slot on a free-to-air network, functioning in perfect cohesion with the latest Biggest Loser/ Masterchef ad campaign. This may be attributed to the fact that My Week with Marilyn’s screenwriter, Adrian Hodge, has an extensive background in television production.
As far as the storyline goes, Clark never had some great romance with Marilyn Monroe. I’m sorry, he just didn’t. Maybe the 21st century has got me down, or maybe my expectations of a ‘fling’ exist in a context largely disparate to a 1950s social and romantic sensibility, but put it this way: Monroe and Clark kissed, went skinny dipping and frolicked through the English countryside ONE TIME. Clark was more of a sycophantic fan, and Marilyn craved and preyed on the virtue of a mesmerised hanger-on.
Perhaps there could have been more focus on the budding-but-never-came-to-fruition romance between Clark and Lucy,
played by an incredibly underused Emma Watson (isn’t it funny how art imitates life?) or better attention could have been given to the cracks in Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller’s (played by the equally missable Dougray Scott) romance... After all, they were supposed to be on honeymoon on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl.
Words by Genevieve Rosen. More at thevine.com.au