In 1956 the world’s most iconic film star, Marilyn Monroe travelled to England to star in a new romantic comedy, The Prince and the Showgirl alongside famed actor/director Sir Laurence Olivier. Throughout an arduous shoot a young man called Colin Clark who joined the production as third AD kept a diary which became the basis of his memoir and this film. The production took place at a difficult time in the lives of both stars and Clark became very close to Monroe in particular, allowing him to present a rare glimpse into the private life of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
My Week with Marilyn was generally well received upon its release in 2011 and was nominated for seven BAFTAS and two Oscars. I unfortunately missed it on its theatrical release but felt very happy when I caught up with it on DVD. The film is an enjoyable watch with some occasional dark turns which gives an almost unprecedented look into a brief snippet of the life of one of the world’s original mega stars.
The plot follows Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) as he sets out in a quest for a job in the film business. His hopes are thought of as ridiculous by his upper class family but he heads off to London undeterred where by sheer persistence he becomes a runner for Laurence Olivier. Through this he gets a job as 3rd AD on Olivier’s latest movie. While on set there are clashes of style and personality between the classically trained Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and his co-star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Monroe is attempting to take her career to another level with an appearance in a serious, British film but finds adjusting to her new surroundings incredibly hard. She also has heath and marital issues and appears to be sick of playing her ‘Marilyn’ character. It is during this time that she starts a friendship with Colin, a man who sees through the poses, hair and curves to the woman who is underneath.
One of the things I really liked about the film is that it showed Monroe’s flaws and exposed her fragility. She appears to be controlled by people with vested interests in her career and is often drugged up, either sedated or kept lively, depending upon what is required. It is almost as though she is a puppet to be bought out when necessary. It is this aspect of her life that she is struggling with during the production of The Prince and the Showgirl. The film shows us both the star and the woman and getting to know off camera Marilyn is a real treat. Knowing how her life would eventually turn out makes some of her statements and ideals even sadder as underneath the makeup and bravado she is simply a woman who wants to act and be loved for who she is. I thought that the film did an excellent job of humanising the character. It also presents the idea that Monroe was a much better actress than she is given credit for as she not only acted in front of the camera but had to maintain her character 24/7.
Another aspect of the film I enjoyed was the period setting and detail. The film looks and feels accurate and the costume, makeup and props are presented alongside a great soundtrack of jazz and big band music. Michelle Williams’ pitch perfect portrayal of Marilyn is helped no end by her great makeup and costume. She looks very much like the star at certain angles. Her performance overall is fantastic and although she deserves her awards and nominations her performance felt so effortless and natural it didn’t actually feel that special. She’s an excellent actress. Kenneth Branagh is also very good as Sir Laurence Olivier and he too deserves all the plaudits he received. Eddie Redmayne has bags of boyish charm which suits his role and he gets to play a character who must be one of the jammiest gits in the history of jammy gits. The supporting cast is made up of some terrific English actors including the likes of Zoe Wanamaker, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Toby Jones, Philip Jackson, Jim Carter, Dominic Cooper and Julia Ormond. All give excellent performances. The entire film is littered with stunning performances from fantastic actors.
Overall My Week with Marilyn is a really interesting film which gives an overview if not a detailed look at the lives of two of the best known actors in film history. The period detail is excellent and it’s nice to get a look behind the camera of a 1950s movie. The central performances are all great and are surrounded by equally good supporting actors. I haven’t got a bad word to say about the film but wish it went a little deeper at times.