‘That’s what she does, she breaks hearts. She’ll break yours.’
I don’t think that I’ve ever told you this before, my dear Wanderers, but I am a massive fan of Marilyn Monroe. I’ve watched all the films, the documentaries, got the posters, wear the red lipstick and I even have the handbag (the ‘grown up’ version of a lunch box). So naturally in 2011, when I heard of an upcoming film, My Week with Marilyn, my friends resigned themselves to being dragged to the cinema whether they liked it or not. They also resigned themselves to the very real possibility that being such a big fan of Marilyn, I would find the film a let down and would need consolation in the form of ice-cream. You see there is always a certain measure of trepidation when another actress steps into the shoes of a character you love. This is all the more so when that character is a real person.
My Week with Marilyn is based on the experiences of writer and film-maker Colin Clark as portrayed in two books. Colin (Eddie Redmayne) is a young and ambitious man determined to enter into the film business. He manages to get a position as a personal assistant on the film The Prince and the Showgirl starring British acting legend Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) and Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams). Through Colin’s eyes, the audience gets a glimpse into the media circus surrounding the world’s most famous actress and the difficulties that Marilyn’s mercurial ways cause when trying to produce a film.
I would seriously advise you to watch The Prince and the Showgirl (1957) before settling down to enjoy this film. First, knowing the original source material will actually assist you in keeping track of events in the film and second because I think it is only by watching the original film that you can fully appreciate just how wonderful the actors’ performances are. Branagh, Williams and Judi Dench all had the additional challenge of playing not only their main character but also playing the role of whatever character their actor/actress happened to be in the 1957 film. All three carry these dual roles superbly. Branagh’s performance is particularly noteworthy as he manages to capture both the charm and charisma of Olivier as well as his darker, slightly seedier side. There are times when watching Branagh act the role of the Prince I genuinely find it difficult to differentiate his performance from that of Olivier himself and frankly I can think of no higher praise than that.
However, let’s be honest, I came to watch Marilyn Monroe and so Williams’ performance was the one which I was most anxious about. There have been so many imitations of Marilyn and most of them lacking in that spark, that zing that Marilyn fans like myself will repeatedly rave on about. Yes, all you non-Marilyners out there, can roll your eyes if you like. Well, I bow down to Michelle Williams and her absolutely magnificent acting. I confess that I came out of the cinema completely stunned and amazed. Williams is Marilyn in this. She completely captures her. Her movements, her voice, her mannerisms and whatever that elusive quality is, Williams nailed it. And this my dear Wanderers is why I beg of you to watch the original 1957 film. When Williams performs a little dance that Marilyn does in the original, it is truly incredible, you really do believe that it is Marilyn, playful and happy, on the screen in front of you. Whether, she’s breaking down in tears, flirting outrageously with reporters and schoolboys or simply admiring a dollhouse, Williams is a scene stealer. Her Marilyn is the perfect blend of sensuality and vulnerability. After watching this film, I was calling for Williams to win an Oscar. I exaggerate not. It was like witnessing Marilyn come back to life on the screen and even after rewatching this film a couple of times the magic doesn’t fade away.
Of course, if we are going to continue talking about powerhouse performances then the male lead simply must get a mention. Eddie Redmayne shot to fame after this film and it’s not hard to see why. His portrayal of Colin as a dashing, good natured but slightly caddish young man is both believable and compelling. Colin is one of the character whose intentions and actions may not always be entirely honourable but you can’t help rooting for him anyway. His attempts to date and seduce Lucy (Emma Watson), a pretty wardrobe assistant are bittersweet and cringeworthy in equal measure. However, as Colin gets more involved with Marilyn throughout the shooting of the film, he grows careless and forgetful of Lucy’s feelings. Redmayne does a fantastic job in portraying Colin’s awe of the famous Hollywood actress and later in the film just how out of his depth this young man is when it comes to coping with Marilyn’s mood swings and emotional problems.
I think that’s one of the things about this film that will appeal to Marilyn fans and non-Marilyners alike. My Week with Marilyn doesn’t gloss over the ugliness that existed in the Hollywood star’s life. There are more than a couple of references to the medication that Marilyn was taking just to get through the day, her marital and health problems and her troubled background. Despite all the praise and adoration Marilyn receives from some quarters, the film doesn’t shy away from how her erratic behaviour could make working with her a very difficult and thankless experience. All of this creates a well-rounded portrayal of the Hollywood legend whilst still giving the audience enough space to come to their own conclusions about Marilyn’s behaviour and the reasons behind it.
Whether you are a fan or not of the screen goddess, this film is a great way to pass a rainy Saturday afternoon. It’s got a bit of drama, some light comedy and truly wonderful acting.
I’d give it four out of five.
Red Hamilton (lied. She has not one but two Marilyn handbags.)