CINEMA: by Siobhan Reeves (reviewer)News Weekly
Marilyn's mystique mesmerises still: My Week with Marilyn (rated M)
, March 17, 2012
My Week with Marilyn (rated M), directed by Simon Curtis and starring Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Judi Dench, Zoë Wanamaker and Emma Watson. Reviewed by Siobhan B. Reeves.
Fifty years after her death, Marilyn Monroe still has that mysterious allure which captivates modern audiences. So the chance to spend two hours exploring a little of her life is quite inviting.
My Week with Marilyn, directed by Simon Curtis, is an intimate portrayal of Marilyn Monroe during the filming in 1956 of The Prince and the Showgirl, directed by and starring Lawrence Olivier (1907-1989) opposite Monroe in England.
The film is based on the diaries of Colin Clark (1932-2002), a writer and documentary film-maker. His father was the legendary Sir Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), the art historian behind the classic BBC series Civilisation (1969), a history of Western art, architecture and philosophy.
With the help of his parents’ extensive contacts, he landed his first job out of Oxford as Olivier’s third assistant director. Decades after the film The Prince and the Showgirl, Clark published his diary.
The story revolves around the bittersweet relationship which forms between Monroe and Clark. Dame Sybil Thorndyke, played to perfection by Judi Dench, remarks to Clark, “First love is such sweet despair.”
Eddie Redmayne plays an endearingly innocent Clark and captures perfectly that despair. The other relationship of sorts explored in the film is that of the utter incompatibility between Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Monroe (Michelle Williams), exacerbated by Monroe’s sycophantic acting coach, Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) — the second wife of the famous director Lee Strasberg, considered to be many to be the father of method acting in America.
The film also gives a glimpse into the film-making process of the ’50s, with much of the action taking place on the set of The Prince and Showgirl. In fact, the same studio which was used to film The Prince and the Showgirl was also used for My Week with Marilyn, and Williams was given what had been Monroe’s dressing room.
Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams)
and Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne)
There were several highlights of the film for me. One is the excellent portrayal of the intensity of the media presence around Monroe; the flashbulbs can be hard on the eyes but they certainly make an inedible impression upon the heart. It gives some small indication to the viewer of what such media scrutiny must have felt like.
A pivotal aspect of the film is its exploration of Monroe’s awareness and manipulation of her own highly sexualised image. One of the key scenes from the film is lifted directly from Clark’s diary:
“Shall I be ‘her’?” she asked. Clark observed: “Without waiting for an answer, she jumped up on a step and struck a pose... there, suddenly, was the image the whole world knew.”
Another highlight is Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Lawrence Olivier. It is no small feat to play an actor considered by many as the greatest actor of the 20th century.
I’ve seen many old Olivier films, and Branagh’s performance is exceptional. He frequently quotes Shakespeare in that unique Olivier tone, and in fact Branagh listened to the entirety of Olivier’s recording of the New Testament in order to get the voice right.
Ultimately, however, Michelle Williams is the reason to see this film. She has already won 13 Best Actress awards for her portrayal of Monroe, and was nominated for an Oscar but lost out to Meryl Streep for the latter’s portrayal of Britain’s first women prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, in The Iron Lady (reviewed in News Weekly, February 18, 2012).
Williams recreates Monroe’s famed poses with affective ease. Time magazine describes Williams as “incandescent”, a term which perfectly captures her luminous performance.
The film also reveals her vulnerability and isolation, despite the fact that, at the time the events depicted took place, she was just three weeks into her ill-fated marriage with playwright Arthur Miller (of Death of a Salesman and The Crucible fame). Williams gives us an insight into the person behind the most iconic woman of the 20th century.
Some critics have labelled the film shallow storytelling, though, given the fact that it is concerned primarily with only one week, I think such criticism is unfounded. But if this film does lack anything in direction or screenplay, it more than makes up for it in outstanding acting.