In 1956 Marilyn Monroe arrived in England to shoot the ill-fated The Prince and the Showgirl, directed by and starring the illustrious Laurence Olivier. The film had little success upon its release, instead becoming renowned for the drama behind the cameras instead of that in front. From the conflict and turmoil however, there arose another story that is only now seeing the light of day; the short and bittersweet love affair between Marilyn Monroe and third AD, Colin Clark.
The film is a pleasure to watch, and not as stuffy as one might imagine from a love story based on the set of a uninspiring cinematic flop. Instead, the sound-stage environment beautifully reflects the duality of the characters, and provides an arena of conflict where reality meets performance. Almost everything about the film is two-sided and always with a whiff of deception (for some this even extends to the validity of the source material). Just as ‘Marilyn Monroe’ is a mask for Norma Jean Mortenson, so is the on-screen Marilyn merely a role to be played. The film depicts the darker side of the woman, the distress, confusion and loneliness she felt whilst off-screen, a huge disparity between the electrifying and glamorous star we see in the movies.
The insecure and troubled Marilyn is played sensationally by Michelle Williams, who has obviously worked hard on perfecting her wiggles and achieves an exceptional rendering of the iconic star. Whilst her imitation is excellent, her performance of the troubled Marilyn (a side rarely seen) is equally as strong. She glides through the fractured personality with ease, but provides enough consistency to really connect the multiple personalities with the one that we know.
Attempting to navigate the changing moods of Marilyn is Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), the young, third AD of the production who gradually wins the trust and friendship of Marilyn. This friendship climaxes in a week-long platonic love affair, when Marilyn’s then-husband Arthur Miller, leaves the set to return home. Clark becomes infatuated with Marilyn, believing the relationship to be based on love, however it becomes increasingly apparent to the viewer that it is no more than a defence mechanism for the troubled starlet. Clark exudes boyish charm and sexual naivety which seems to explain Marilyn’s desire for connection. Much like a tortoise, Marilyn hides when feeling threatened, whether from external sources or her own insecurities, and therefore the entirely nonthreatening (and lovestruck) Clark makes a perfect companion during her week alone.
Williams’ Marilyn must face off against her director, and co-star Laurence Olivier, portrayed by Kenneth Branagh in a role he was born to play. Branagh is already infused with the majesty of Shakespeare and the great theatrical tradition, and having been both star and director, lends great weight and experience to his role of Olivier. In My Week With Marilyn, Olivier is seeking to make the next great British film, and frequently clashes with Marilyn’s unreliability and her evoking of method acting, a technique he despises. The relationship between Monroe and Olivier lends a third dimension to the film that is interesting in its execution, but also because it sums up the culture of film making at the time. Olivier feels out of touch with the Hollywood and wants to join the ranks of movie stars, however, despite his greatness he can’t but help feel inadequate next to Marilyn and her undeniable talent.
With a great supporting cast that includes Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Dougray Scott and Zoë Wanamaker this is fantastic film that is hugely enjoyable. Of course it remains of particular interest to the legions of Monroe fans, as well as those with an interest cinematic history and the duality of the art form, and further serves as a reminder that the models of perfection that we are exposed to on-screen are little more than characters of which we know little about.