Marilyn Monroe lives again as cinema continues to consume its own history in this brief and flirtatious peek behind the lenses of the Golden Era.
Despite no more than a dozen starring roles in the 1950s and 1960s, the woman raised as Norma Jeane Baker still continues to capture the public’s imagination in her persona of the late, great Marilyn Monroe. Ranked as one of the greatest female screen performers of all time, she died young enough to forever be remembered as a goddess of the silver screen. Yet her personal life was just as glamorous and chaotic as the musical comedies she became famous for, and even in death she remains a mysterious and enigmatic figure. Based on two diary accounts by Colin Clark, The Prince, The Showgirl and Me and My Week with Marilyn, the film takes a small slice of Monroe’s life and views it from the inside-out.
It is the summer of 1956, and Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is desperate to work on a film set. He gets his chance when Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) convinces husband and director Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) to give him an assistant director position on The Prince and the Showgirl, a new film to star the director and Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Arriving in England to great buzz with her new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), the shoot is not exactly a smooth one. When Miller leaves, Marilyn takes comfort in the company of Colin.
The last year has seen the film industry look long and hard at itself, from the decline of silent film in The Artist to the rediscovery of it decades later in Hugo. My Week with Marilyn looks at the tail end of another system, one where new stars like Monroe threatened the old guard thesps and shook them out of their complacency. Much of the earlier part of the film concentrates on Clark and Olivier, with Monroe frequently referenced on seen in test footage. The tactic pays off, for the arrival of Michelle Williams both on screen and on the fictional set as Monroe is a moment to savour, with her performance being one of the things that makes the movie stand out from a sea of similarly plotted biopics.
Williams doesn’t simply look the part, but embodies the contradiction that was Monroe. She may not be quite as stunning, or as curvy, as the subject she is portraying, but she captures the era and the essence of the showgirl. Her speech patterns border on the caricature at times, but it is not long before we are seeing the starlet spring to life again, especially in the recreation of several famous sequences from the The Prince and the Showgirl. More impressive is Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier, a perfect bit of casting if ever there was one. Branagh’s early career was offered compared to the man he plays here, but rarely has Olivier been seen with such heartfelt humility. Eddie Redmayne should also be praised for standing out in a group that is also made up of the likes of Judi Dench and Julia Ormond, rounding out the cast with sincerity and earnestness. It’s not all good news though, with Emma Watson still no closer to showing any talent after eight Harry Potter movies.
My Week with Marilyn is a picturesque snapshot of an era, filtered through the memoirs of an individual who lived through them. Whether that makes them unreliable is almost irrelevant, as the film is just as much about the end of an era as it is about the people in it. The narrative is sometimes a little uneven, and if we are reminded once we are reminded a dozen times by various characters that Marilyn was the “greatest actress” of her time, and it could just as easily be a television biopic as a big screen outing for all the melodrama.Yet Monroe’s story is undeniably compelling, and this small portion leaves us craving more of the authentic stuff.
My Week with Marilyn is released in Australia on 16 February 2012 from Roadshow Films.