Don’t forget “My Week with Marilyn”

Marilyn Monroe:  Icon.  Legend.  Sex symbol.  Actress.  Singer.  Model.  Showgirl.  Producer.  Monroe’s legacy is full of positive adoration but My Week with Marilyn, based on the book The Prince, the Showgirl and Me by Colin Clark, tells a darker story of the troubled starlet who became increasingly “difficult” to work with in her career.  It’s a powerful portrait painted as if it were 1957 and Monroe herself was still on set commanding attention.   

In 1956, determined to succeed in the film business, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) becomes the third assistant director to Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl.  Clark discovers he’ll be on site with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams), making My Week with Marilyn his account of the reputed tensions between Monroe and Olivier.  Once he professes his allegiance to Marilyn, he becomes her most trusted confidant and her desperation for escapism becomes increasingly apparent.  

The film draws attention to Monroe’s depression as she tries to cope with her own celebrity and dependency on alcohol and pills.  Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain) was entrusted to breathe life into this portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, into this woman who just wants to “be loved like a regular girl,” but wants to be the best wife to her husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), while becomming a great film actress.  Williams soars, especially in her reactions shots as Monroe, though no recreated performance could ever compare to the original.  The subtle, nuanced internal struggles are written on Williams’ face perfectly and for good reason.  As depicted, Monroe struggled to accept her performance as strong enough or worthy of a film star.  Williams mirrors this uncertainty as she tries to deliver on expectations of greatness which lends itself perfectly to the role.  In preparation, Williams taped her legs together to learn Monroe’s walk, added an airy quality to her voice and mastered the signature smile, mannerisms and winks. 

A strong supporting cast is put in place for Williams, including Julia Ormond (Vivien Leigh), Zoë Wanamaker (Paula Strasberg), and Judi Dench (Dame Sybil Thorndike), all of whom Williams has chemistry with, but none moreso than prominent co-star Eddie Redmayne.  Redmayne, who is relatively new to acting and lesser known, acts as the perfect balance to Michelle Williams’ on-screen commanding female.  He appears uncertain, naive and vulnerable, which is exactly how Colin Clark would appear beside an international celebrity such as Monroe.  It’s a nice dynamic allowing each actor to create their own memorable performance in the nostalgic atmosphere created by director Simon Curtis.

Curtis went to great lengths to create the feel of the movie, including using a subdued color palet that works with the technicolor process and the original music of composer Conrad Pope.  Pope created cool jazz instrumentals with vibes and marimbas to compliment each individual scene.  Marilyn’ s score and soundtrack (which includes “You Stepped Out of a Dream” and “Autumn Leaves” by Nat “King” Cole) helped with the 1956-1957 immersion Simon Curtis aimed for, as did the witty, intelligent screenplay. 

Screenwriter Adrian Hodges adapted Colin Clark’s books to craft a story that highlights the insecurities and mental fagility of Marilyn Monroe while also noting several classical film debates and moments specific to the times including unions, Strasberg’s “Method” vs. “Craft” acting and the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  Hodges’ screenplay allows My Week with Marilyn to serve as a historical reference (of sorts) but also offers some social commentary on the state of women in Hollywood today, for example, Vivien Leigh (Ormond) says to Marilyn, “I’m 43 darling, no one will love me for very much longer – not even you.” 

Beyond the words are timeless images and moments including a paparazzi scene with hundreds of camera flashes, the opening and closing musical numbers and the moment Marilyn is watching the rushes.  It’s a great film with a timeless feel that says, “We are such stuff as dreams are made of” and as Colin says, “My only talent was not to close my eyes.”

Grade:  A


3 thoughts on “Don’t forget “My Week with Marilyn”

  1. Bobby,
    You should add “Producer” to your list of Marilyn’s roles and accomplishments, as this is an important fact we learn about her in this film. I am re-thinking the belief that Marilyn was overcome by her fame, and considering that Hollywood just wasn’t ready for a woman who could truly control her own destiny, or would even try.

    This film is beautiful to look at and the story was tender and lovely, just how you would like to think every young man’s experience with first love should be. Michelle Williams was amazing. I am certain that we will be hearing more from Eddie Redmayne. When it was pointed out to me that he was the quirky guy from “The Yellow Handkerchief” I was even more impressed by him.

    Great review Bobby!

  2. She definitely was not one dimensional and probably “the” icon of the 20th century that everybody wants to know more about.

    Even though so much has already been written there is still that cloudy mystique that envelopes the persona that is Marilyn. It’s unfortunate that her troubled later life and consumption of drugs and alcohol resulted in her moody, difficult attitude and her unreliability caused so many problems with the studios and created havoc on set.

    Michelle Williams looks amazing in the stills above and Judi Dench is certainly a grand dame of film & theatre who is always wonderful. I have devoured numerous books about the life of Marilyn and I can not wait to see this film.

    Well written once again I love the way you try to concentrate on the positive aspects in your reviews without dwelling laboriously on what flaws there may be. It shows empathy and class.

    The Bobby “A” is a ringing endorsement.


  3. Greetings again from the darkness. I was initially a bit ambivalent about seeing a movie about Marilyn Monroe making a movie. My twisted thinking was that I have already seen the actual film “The Prince and the Showgirl”, and this particular story is based on a book by Colin Clark who claims to have had a connection/fling with Marilyn during the production phase of the film. Since I had always doubted Clark’s claim, it wasn’t until early reviews of Michelle Williams’ performance hit Twitter that I started to get interested.

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