Director: Simon Curtis
In life, as in death, Marilyn Monroe was an enigma. It’s clear that hers was an existence micromanaged to the finest detail, which was fascinating to the general public but infuriating to those who had to work with her. At one point in My Week With Marilyn, Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) dismisses her ‘little girl lost’ routine, speculating that “Marilyn knows exactly what she wants!” Whether this is true or not, the same cannot be said for My Week With Marilyn; it flirts with being both true story and light romp, but comes across as a strange melange of the two.
1957’s The Prince and the Showgirl, though a neat little romp, is hardly the finest entry on either Monroe’s or Olivier’s resumés (My Week With Marilyn acknowledges this fact in its coda). As we learn, Olivier went about it as the frothy comedy it was, but Marilyn (played here by Michelle Williams) was yearning to be taken seriously as an actress, egged on as such by her Method coach Paula Strassberg (Zoë Wanamaker) and her producing partner Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper, doing his best Mark Ruffalo impression). This pressure seemed only to increase Monroe’s self-doubt and paranoia, leading to delays in the shooting schedule and tempers (mostly Olivier’s) flaring. Between her ambitions, her mood swings and her loveless marriage to new hubby Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), Williams captures the cracking façade of Monroe beautifully. Behind the flirty winks and pouty lips lies a paranoid little pill-popper in desperate need of comforting. This could easily have become a spoiled brat of a character, but Williams does justice to Monroe with a gutsy performance. The only person Marilyn seems able to reveal the real Norma Jean to is the third assistant director, the fresh-faced Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). According to the real Clark’s diaries (on which the script is based), Marilyn was attracted to his kind heart and innocence, and it is this goodness that renders Clark such a bland character. Redmayne has one of those eerily young faces that you can imagine him still having into his fifties, and the combination of fresh face and innocence of character make Clark an unmemorable lead. Indeed, the younger members of the main cast (Redmayne and Emma Watson, in her first feature-length role post-Harry Potter) seem lightweight compared to other cast members with smaller roles. Scott, Julia Ormond (as Vivien Leigh) and Dame Judie Dench (as Dame Sybil Thorndike) do much with small roles though others, like Simon Russell Beale, Toby Jones and Derek Jacobi, are wasted on bit parts. Williams may get all the plaudits, but Branagh deserves mention also, as he gets beyond Olivier’s outer pretentiousness to hints of self-deprecation.
It is Branagh’s and Williams’ performances that anchor MWWM. Be assured; it is a film in need of an anchor, as neither director Simon Curtis (TV’s Cranford) or writer Adrian Hodges knows what to make of the material. It veers between sunny escapism (Marilyn and Colin’s day-trip to Windsor, for example) and deathly serious drama (Marilyn’s dependence on pills), and the whole exploit rarely manages to marry the two together effectively. The scenes may work separately, but together they’re rather awkward. MWWM boasts enough good performances and classy visuals to appease the nostalgic in all of us. Like The Prince and the Showgirl, My Week With Marilyn is rarely less than watchable, but chances are director and stars will go on to better things.