“I thought you hated all that Royal Court stuff”
I never quite got round to watching My Week With Marilyn when it was released in late 2011: it came out at a busy theatre time (as if there’s any other time for me) and clearly I wasn’t in a particularly cinematic frame of mind as this kind of film would normally be catnip to me with its combination of old-school Hollywood and a British thesp-heavy cast. So I’ve only just gotten round to watching it now and though it clearly contains a performance of exceptional grace and ingenuity in Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe, I was surprised at how lightweight the film was as a whole.
Based on two books by Colin Clark, a young man so determined to make a career for himself in the film industry that he managed to wangle his first job as a production assistant on the set of The Prince and the Showgirl, a film directed by and co-starring Lawrence Olivier. But working with such a megastar as Monroe does not prove easy: her personal demons constantly threaten to overwhelm her, exacerbating her already-troubled new third marriage to Arthur Miller, and her over-reliance on her acting coach causes much tension as she ends up delaying the making of the film time and time again. In the midst of all the chaos, she lights upon Clark, who is completely bewitched by his idol, as an emotional crutch and he ends up spending a week escorting her about and providing some light escapism from her life.
Though there’s much to enjoy here, I couldn’t help but feel that the perspective of the whole thing was a little skewed. It’s such a rose-tinted view of Marilyn, always through the eyes of a lovesick boy, and so consequently we never lose the haze of fantasy, the idealised portrait. By presenting her as so much of a victim, never seeing her as a manipulator of people and circumstances, there’s something of a shallowness that tests even Michelle Williams’ great talent, too few moments of genuine emotional drama for her to work with. Only in her final words to the cast and crew of the film set is there a sense of the selfishness, necessary or otherwise, of the person, of the artist, that the postscript celebrating her success can’t quite gloss over.
Eddie Redmayne fits the aristocrat-manqué Clark perfectly well and also suggests the wonder of a young man who can’t believe his luck throughout and I rather liked Kenneth Branagh’s Olivier, though I was reliably informed he was completely miscast. Across the large ensemble cast, it was nice to see familiar faces like Miranda Raison as a wonderfully self-confident secretary, Simon Russell Beale as a fatuous homeowner, Julia Ormond’s Vivien Leigh racked with insecurities and Peter Wight’s disbelieving publican. The casting isn’t all great though: Dominic Cooper feels a little miscast as Marilyn’s business partner Milton H Greene though I’d be hard-pressed to identify just why I felt that way and Emma Watson did little to convince me she has much range as an actress, too much of an anachronistic presence.
So a perfectly watchable film, one I had thought might be a little more satisfactorily revelatory and so I can’t say I’d rush to watch it again any time soon, but enjoyable nonetheless.