Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Week with Marilyn

My Week with Marilyn (U.S.,  2011) directed by Simon Curtis, 99 minutes
Nominated for two Oscars:
Best Actress in a Leading Role - Michelle Williams
Best Actor in a Supporting Role - Kenneth Branagh

The film is based on the memoirs of Colin Clark who for a short, eventful time worked as a production assistant on the set with Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) when she was shooting the dismal comedy romance The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) in 1956. Oxford educated, gently bred Clark, 23 at the time, went on to write The Prince, the Showgirl and Me. Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is romantically inclined, sensitive and susceptible to Monroe’s charms (and her foibles) during a turbulent time in Monroe’s life. 

The plot of The Prince and the Showgirl is silly and old fashioned and the title pretty much tells the whole story but at the time it must have seemed like a coup for both actors. She would make Olivier more sexy and current; he would lend some gravitas and class to soften Monroe’s sex-pot image. It must have seemed an equitable exchange at the time.

The anecdotes surrounding the film are well known by now: Marilyn’s on-going sleeplessness, addiction to pills, intense insecurity about her acting powers, perpetual lateness, fear of being alone, fear of the censure of others, made the production experience a nightmare for cast and crew and resentments built. Olivier did not comport himself well either apparently. He was impatient and condescending as well as obviously jealous of Monroe’s fame - that could prove to be a toxic cocktail on set. 

Williams has received enormous accolades for her role as Marilyn but as much as I admire her as an actress and as a person, to me, she does not resemble Marilyn in the least and that is an impediment. I don’t think my belief was suspended for one moment during the film despite some fine acting by Williams and the picture perfect details of the 50s era depicted. 

The recollection, if true to the book, paints a congenial picture of the women in Colin's life. Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench), a supporting player, is kindly and nurturing towards Marilyn recognizing her worth and her value to the film. Julia Ormond, as Olivier's wife Vivien Leigh, is remarkably sane and understanding considering that she has been supplanted by Marilyn in the role she originated on stage. Emma Watson as the plucky love interest for Colin is smart and no-nonsense and soon disappears as she realizes how infatuated Colin has become with Marilyn. It all appears a bit tame and not quite believable.

But the men in Marilyn's life don’t fair so well here. Husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott)
Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark
comes across as cold and distant and literally not there in her time of need. Olivier is prissy, demanding, arrogant, prickly and played to perfection by Branagh. He is represented as a relic of a previous theatrical and movie era – totally irrelevant and artificial as well as utterly jealous of Marilyn’s freshness and vivacity on screen. 

It’s an interesting move by Branagh who has often been accused of modelling himself on Olivier and fancying himself as Olivier’s heir in the theatre. These are empty accusations as far as I am concerned. Even though he doesn’t resemble Olivier he captures something essential about him – the vanity, the insecurity and the fear that he is rapidly becoming a fading icon of the past. 

Redmayne as Colin Clark is sweet and affectionate and supportive – with liquid hazel eyes and an adoring look that proves irresistible to Marilyn (and the female viewer). 

The more I read about Monroe’s life the more uneasy I am about how she was used through her career by various people. It is lovely to think that she found refuge with this young man for a brief, short time. I hope that she did.

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