Introducing the new guy: My Week with Marilyn, review by Daniel Picker
In “My Week with Marilyn” actress Michelle Williams delivers a revelatory performance as Marilyn Monroe. Of course portraying Miss Monroe, a 20th century icon presents a unique challenge. This film, “My Week with Marilyn” is based on the “Diaries” of Colin Clark, a British filmmaker who at 23 served as 3rd Assistant Director on the film “The Prince and the Showgirl” of 1957. That film starred Marilyn Monroe and Sir Laurence Olivier. The film of Clark’s “Week with Marilyn” takes place in 1956, and the period detail of this picture is spot on.
Colin Clark was the son of the eminent art historian Sir Kenneth Clark; Colin, the younger of two sons was educated at Eton College and Christ Church Oxford. In the film “My Week with Marilyn” Clark, as portrayed by another Etonian, Eddie Redmayne serves as a sort of go–between for Olivier who is portrayed by Kenneth Branagh.
Since Monroe is so well known to American audiences Michelle Williams must gain acceptance as a convincing Marilyn. For this filmgoer, accepting Williams as Monroe did not occur initially until about 50 minutes into the film, or roughly the halfway point; but when Monroe escapes with the aid of her body guard and driver, with the young Colin Clark, Williams captures the spirit of Marilyn Monroe and the film draws greater attention. Williams does well in channeling Monroe’s playful spirit, and there are a number of scenes when she charms her audience toward the level of riveting fascination which Monroe commanded.
The romantic romp Williams and Redmayne as Monroe and Clark set out on beyond London takes the filmgoer from Pinewood Studios in London to the verdant English countryside and Windsor Castle. But as we all know, Monroe’s life was not all fun. This film “My Week with Marilyn” also portrays Monroe’s paralyzing insecurity and self–doubt, and her dependence on lackeys, including her acting coach Paula Strasberg, wife of Lee, of The Actors Studio in New York; and also, Monroe’s domineering admirer Milton Greene, here portrayed by Dominic Cooper.
But this film, or movie, is not a searching biopic, but tries to walk the line between biopic and light–hearted comedy. Emma Watson portrays an age–apropos love interest, Lucy, for Colin Clark, but Clark is soon mesmerized by Monroe’s charms. Julia Ormond portrays Olivier’s wife Vivian Leigh, and Dame Judi Dench as Sybil Thorndike defends and shields the flustered Monroe from the impatience and tumult of Olivier. The two actresses Leigh and Thorndike serve to introduce a sub–plot or under current to the film as they remain fully aware that their fading and aging beauty is no match for Monroe’s beam.
This film features capable performances by the veteran Shakespearean actor Sir Derek Jacobi who portrays the Royal Librarian at Windsor Castle, Sir Owen Moreshead, who is a relative of Clark’s. Zoe Wanamaker is effective as the shrewish Paula Strasberg, as are Dominic Cooper as the overbearing and jealous, Milton Greene, and Toby Jones, (of “Infamous”) as the reporter Arthur Jacobs.
But this picture belongs to the triumvirate of Williams, Redmayne, and Branagh. If one as a filmgoer can forget that Williams is not Marilyn Monroe, no one could be Marilyn, then one as a filmgoer may accept Williams as Monroe; and Redmayne as the well–born, and educated Colin Clark effectively puts forth that certain smitten character of the love–struck; but it is Branagh, as an aging Olivier who commands the close of the film, by delivering as a world–weary Sir Laurence, Prospero’s lines from Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud–capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
For those who know Marilyn Monroe only from black and white photographs, a few film clips, and perhaps only one of her comedies, perhaps “The Seven – Year Itch” this film, may serve as an introduction to Marilyn Monroe who no doubt wished to be appreciated and taken seriously as a person, that Norma Jean who the inescapable image of Marilyn Monroe so brightly obscures. This film, “My Week with Marilyn” also serves well as a temporary escape from the quotidian.