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The life of Marilyn Monroe was at once magnificent and tragic. To balance this on film was always going to be something of a challenge, and it was with great regret that I left My Week with Marilyn feeling it had fallen short of achieving this balance. Simon Curtis’ film tells the true story of Colin Clark, a young assistant director who formed a bond with Monroe whilst she was shooting “The Prince and the Showgirl” at London’s Pinewood studios alongside Sir Laurence Olivier. Whilst Monroe and Olivier’s relationship is at best frosty, Monroe seems to find solace with Clark as she struggles against self-doubt and the reliance on prescription medication that would eventually claim her life years after this story ends.
As confused as poor old Marilyn was, this film seemed to be even more so. The script meanders along slowly: it is often repetitive and, sadly, takes regular nosedives into becoming unrealistically corny. There are hints of a great film; brief moments when the dialogue is captivating which only serve to make it more infuriating when the quality suddenly drops again. It is as if the director couldn’t quite decide whether it was more important to present a romanticised Marilyn that we all know from her iconic film roles, or a more humanised, darker Marilyn that is perhaps truer to life. Curtis chose to try and present both and failed – the jumps in the production were often jarring, too long spent with one Marilyn and then too long with the other so that at some points it felt as if they were two different characters.
If there were two Marilyn’s in this film however, then Michelle Williams was extraordinary at portraying both, and I feel the issues in continuity are hardly a fault of her performance. With the words she is given, Williams does a fantastic job of making you feel as though you really are watching Monroe herself. It is a polished and well observed performance worthy of the high praise she has so far received, though whether it has the weight to earn a Best Actress Oscar I’m not sure. Elsewhere leading man Eddie Redmayne is quite wonderful as Colin Clark, Judi Dench plays a warm and likeable Dame Sybil Thorndike and Zoë Wanamaker is extremely accomplished as Monroe’s method acting coach Paula Strasberg.
There were, unfortunately, weaknesses in the all star cast that dragged the overall quality below that which would be expected in this genre. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now; Kenneth Branagh is, I’m sure, a wonderful stage actor but much like the flailing, arrogant Sir Laurence Olivier he was portraying, his performances on screen are simply too big, too exaggerated. His Olivier was at times so over emphasised that it was laughable and in such a prominent role it was extremely distracting from the narrative. Dominic Cooper and Emma Watson’s characters were so obsolete in the story that there was little either of the young actors could do to drag them out of two dimensions whilst Julia Ormand’s Vivien Leigh and Dougray Scott’s Arthur Miller may as well have been cut completely for all the use they were to the story.
I can accept that My Week with Marilyn faced an almost impossible task, but I would question why such a weak story was ever adapted for the screen in the first place. Marilyn Monroe is often credited with having saved Hollywood in the days when television threatened to steal away revenue and her place as a legend of popular culture is well deserved, and it is because of this that I’m not sure this story was the right one to tell. Colin Clark’s experience is an interesting anecdote, but there simply isn’t enough time for an audience to thoroughly explore Monroe and she is perhaps deserving of more than this film was ever going to be able to give her.
The clue, I suppose, was in the title. We are allowed a glimpse of Marilyn Monroe and in the manner befitting a star of her stature she leaves us wanting much, much more. Ultimately I believe the mistake that was made was to try and cover too much too quickly – there were so many characters on the screen that the broth was well and truly spoiled. No sooner had we started to understand one that another’s troubles were quickly pushed to the fore and then mercilessly torn away from us. As a result, everything was a touch shallow. Far shallower than the dynamic, intriguing and beautiful figure the film was supposed to be exploring.
Monroe will be remembered by history as a legend of the film industry and perhaps one day in return the industry will produce a film that properly encapsulates this majestic yet vulnerable icon.