Veteran television director, Simon Curtis (Cranford, David Copperfield, Roots) makes the jump to the big screen for the first time with My Week With Marilyn. The movie dramatises documenter, Colin Clark’s first stumbling steps into the world of filmmaking, as chronicled in his memoirs, The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn, concerning Monroe’s visit to England to film Olivier’s The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957.
We’re greeted with a surprising wealth of both well established and recently emerged British acting talent at every turn within the supporting cast. (Judy Dench, Emma Watson, Simon Russell Beale – on our screen for the third time this week! Toby Jones, Philip Jackson, Dougary Scott, Dominic Cooper, Zoë Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi, Jim Carter and Leicester’s own Michael Kitchen.) That may be the most impressive list I’ve seen since Tinker Tailor.
Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a privileged 23 year old leaves the nest to “join the circus” and elbow his way into film making. And elbow he does! With a bit of patience and a massive dollop of cheek, he manages to wrangle himself the position of 3rd Assistant Director on Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh’s) picture. Although little more than a gopher, he never the less delves into this brave new world with gusto. However, the filming of a light comedy staring two of the biggest stars at the time, doesn’t go as smoothly as predicted. Marilyn (Williams) is a mess. She fluffs lines, constantly arrives several hours late for filming and is cripplingly reliant on Stanislavsky’s Method and her tutor, Paula Strasberg (Wanamaker.) This isn’t helped by Olivier’s understandable exasperation, exclaiming; ‘Teaching Marilyn to act is like teaching Urdu to a badger!’ Even newly wed husband Arthur Miller (Scott) has had enough and takes a break back to the States. During his absence, Monroe finds a new crutch in young, slightly naïve Colin.
For the majority of the film, the promised, brief affair takes a back seat to the troubles surrounding the production of the picture, which as it turns out, is a bit more interesting. The plot is a little predictable and the script, whilst certainly not terrible or without its highlights, isn’t particularly memorable. However, this is more than made up for by the performances. Branagh delivers a strong Laurence Olivier, suitably awe inspiring and tortured as he mutters Shakespeare to himself, faced with the prospect of disaster and the fact that film directing may simply not be his forte. Dame Judy Dench plays a sympathetic, supportive and ultimately likable Dame Sybil Thorndyke, British acting royalty, portraying British acting royalty.
However, it’s Michelle Williams who leaves us wolf whistling in the aisles. Aside from being a dead ringer for the starlet (searching for images to use for the Film Notes and blog posts this week left me wondering which were screenshots from the film and which were photos of the actual article) she portrays her with such an unexpected fragility, thinly veiled behind a guise of sex appeal. Her confidence hangs by a thread and the merest breeze could not only send it reeling but shatter her in the process. She’s a bimbo, a slightly exasperating one, but one we can muster some respect for. She’s constantly on the raggedy edge of breakdown and is held back by the very limitations that she unwittingly sets for herself.
My Week With Marilyn is a reminder that the essence of cinema is both physically and psychologically based on trickery. That which we see on screen is almost always an illusion that when done properly, we’ll gladly suspend our disbelief and allow ourselves to be lost in and on rare occasions accept as truth. However, it’s usually not awfully far behind the smoke and mirrors that we find that even the strongest of screen presences can prove to be paper thin. The immortalised Norma Jeane Baker is a prime case of this, every bit as worldly as we and perhaps more fallible than we would pause to imagine.
Graham Muir is a Box Office and Front of House Assistant at Phoenix Square. When not compiling the Film Notes or editing the Staff Film Reviews, he lovingly nurtures a caffeine fuelled video gaming addiction.