Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion
Few people have captured the world’s attention like Marilyn Monroe. A glamorous icon of beauty and sex appeal, she became the standard by which other beautiful women were judged. Perhaps cementing her legacy was a life cut too short, but none of the latter years are the focus of director Simon Curtis’ My Week with Marilyn.
The film is set during the shooting of 1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl and told from the perspective of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), working on set for Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) as a fresh-faced 3rd assistant director (i.e. do whatever Olivier tells you to do). He eventually wrote a few books, including My Week with Marilyn and The Prince, The Showgirl and me which would be the basis for Adrian Hodges’ script.
As the title implies, and one can see from the trailer, Clark and Monroe do more than go over dialogue for the next day’s shoot. Complicating matters for him slightly is a newly begun courtship of Lucy (Emma Watson), who works as a costume designer on the production. Complicating things for him even more so is navigating the hierarchy that surrounds him. Olivier wants Monroe to revitalize his career, Monroe wants the film to establish her acting chops, her acting coach (Zoë Wanamaker as Paula Strasberg) needs to justify her salary, and her manager (Dominic Cooper) wants to make sure nothing ruins his golden goose. It’s a lot for a young man to wade through but as told in the film, he does so capably.
Williams’ performance as Monroe is stunning. The script is about getting a glimpse of the woman behind the facade, which keeps the production feeling vibrant rather than like a standard biopic. Williams captures the insecurities, doubts, and self-awareness of the actress, delivering a portrait of a woman who lived to be loved. She has the world wrapped around her finger, able to lure men in when she feels the need, in an almost calculated fashion; she’s got the art of seduction down to a science.
Just as important to making the film feel differently than a stuffy documentary (and there is a documentary about these events, named after the book, The Prince, the Showgirl and me), the costume and make-up departments went to great lengths to get things as right as they needed them to be but weren’t dead set on making carbon copies. Branagh is fitted with a chin prosthetic to more closely resemble Olivier and Williams used hip pads and a wig to better approximate Monroe, but the key was capturing their essence and telling the story, not attempting to fool the naked eye.
What ends up on screen is a rather fascinating character study of Monroe and Olivier, as told from an insider’s perspective. It’s a shame that Judi Dench’s portrayal of Dame Sybil Thorndike isn’t utilized more, as the character figures prominently in the beginning and becomes an afterthought, the subplot between Colin and Lucy feels a bit like window dressing and the film begins to lag a bit towards the end. However, those interested either in Monroe, Olivier, or the ego of celebrity will find plenty to enjoy in My Week with Marilyn. Also, for those trying to figure out which films to see for their Oscar pool, it may behoove you to see William’s depiction of the starlet. Just a friendly hint.
My Week with Marilyn hits theaters on November 23, 2011 and is rated R for some language.