28 November 2011


The most instant and obvious comparison to make, after viewing My Week With Marilyn, is with Richard Linklater's underviewed 2009 film, Me And Orson Welles. Like Welles, Simon Curtis' film uses a memoir as its starting point, setting up the protagonist as a plucky accomplice to a screen icon and taking the opportunity to wax cinematic about an institution. Linklater's film is an ode to the theatre, and this is a film that is in love with Marilyn Monroe.

Colin Clark is a young aspiring filmmaker who doggedly pursues a job working for Sir Lawrence Olivier on his new film, The Prince and the Showgirl. Colin becomes the third assistant director, and gains a unique insight into Olivier's leading lady, Marilyn Monroe. At the height of her popularity, Marilyn's arrival in England to film The Sleeping Prince, as it was then known, makes her adoring public ecstatic. But beneath the star's sultry exterior lies much greater vulnerability, as Colin discovers when he begins a dalliance with the world's most famous actress.

Will there be room for movies like this, or Me And Orson Welles, one or two decades from now? Each hearkens back to a time when the prodigious celebrity of their subject was something extraordinary. This one comes from the real Colin Clark's memoir, The Prince, The Showgirl & Me, but look at all the material about fame these days. This film, in 10 or 20 years, would be based on an OK! magazine feature, or a News of the World exposé. "My Wild Romp With Susan Boyle" would be more like it, and so the most immediately appealing thing about My Week With Marilyn lies in how its old-fashioned nature speaks much more to the glamour of fame, as opposed to the currently meaningless idea of celebrity.

Interestingly, Curtis and screenwriter Adrian Hodges completely take the original memoir at face value. The adaptation is a little clumsy at the beginning and at the end, with worthless narration and intertitles. The first thing you read in the film is that Marilyn Monroe made a film in England, before we watch a film about Marilyn Monroe making a film in England. Such superfluous touches seem unwieldy when they occur, but after a shaky start, the film was canny enough to completely enchant me in no time at all.

Like many awards season features, it's largely about the performances, perhaps unsurprisingly for a film that centres largely around actors, and around filmmaking. The film has a roster of British stars which would even make the teachers' common room at Hogwarts appear wanting, with particularly spectacular turns by Kenneth Branagh, whose perpetually frustrated Olivier is measurably this film's equivalent of Christian McKay's Welles, and Judi Dench, who plays a much warmer character than I can ever remember her playing, as generous thesp Dame Sybil Thorndike.

Even so, you could argue that it all hinges on Michelle Williams in the lead role, and happily, she metes out the unhinged behaviour along with the irresistible sex appeal. Her take on Marilyn is bipolar and tempestuous, but she's seldom any less than alluring. As the film, and presumably the book, would have it, Marilyn's star status leaves her adrift amongst her people's conflicting interests. She's treated with kid gloves by almost everyone, whether out of sympathy or fear of breaking her. Her friendship with Colin comes out of his unique position in all of this, with his ability to tell her the truth, straight, without spin, and to lend a sympathetic ear.

The central romance, however, is even more beguiling than Marilyn herself. Just because it isn't driven by lust, doesn't mean that there can ever be an awful lot more to this fling than friendship. And although Eddie Redmayne is likeable enough, and Williams is completely believable all the way through, it became clear that the stuff I really enjoyed involved the film production, and the characters involved with that. Branagh isn't in that middle passage of the film as much, Dench can only have been in the film for about ten minutes altogether, and Toby Jones completely disappears after the first 20 minutes. I think I ultimately liked all of them better than the pairing of Williams and Redmayne.

My Week With Marilyn isn't quite as good a film as Me And Orson Welles, but I found it just as enjoyable. Even though it is rooted in history, and in its autobiographical source, it is built upon a myth, and upon the glamour surrounding a bipolar woman who became the biggest movie star in the world. It's a hell of a myth, and few could embody it as well as Williams. Although I would have liked it to be just as much about classical filmmaking as Welles is about theatre, this isn't Welles. And what it actually is is good enough for me, with its superb cast and its old-fashioned affection for the long lost glamour of celebrity. 

My Week With Marilyn is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen My Week With Marilyn, why not share your comments below? You can also add this one to the growing list of 2011 films where a Spot The Harry Potter Actor drinking game would make the infamous Withnail And I game look tame by comparison.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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