Before we get onto the film I’d like to tell you a story about how I found the Phoenix Picturehouse in Oxford. Standing in line at the Odeon we noticed that the cinema wasn’t even showing My Week With Marilyn, clearly we were at the wrong Odeon. At this moment two women in the queue abandoned the cinema with one saying to their friend, “there’s still time to catch Marilyn.” Presuming that they meant the film and that they were heading for t’other Odeon we stalked them, darting from tree to lamppost to remain unseen. After a longer than expected stealth walk the two women lead us to a Picturehouse we didn’t realise existed. I love a good Picturehouse and this was no exception: lovely décor and sitting on the back row we had enough leg room to do the can-can had the need arisen. Lovely cinema. ANECDOTE OVER
My Week With Marilyn covers one week of production of the Lawrence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) directed The Prince and the Showgirl, as the star Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) clashes with her director and finds an ally in 3rd assistant director Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne). The much-disputed facts come from the memoirs of the real life Colin Clark so the film takes on a very subjective view of events.
As the film begins we are introduced to Clark, an eager young man with a dream of working in the movies, and the family connections to make it happen. Before long he has gotten himself a job on Lawrence Olivier’s new film, a job allowing him to interact with Dame Sybil Thorndike (played with no effort needed by Dame Judi Dench) and flirt with costumer Lucy (Emma Watson at her more convincing). At this point the film is playing as a enjoyable piece of British period cinema, everyone having fun with their roles, particularly Branagh, and the sense of anticipation at the impending arrival of Monroe was shared by characters and audience alike.
When Monroe arrives everyone holds their breath; while Monroe herself could turn heads, Michelle Williams so captures her essence that it is a marvel to behold. I still can’t decide whether or not footage of the real thing was slipped in as there were moments when Williams simply became Monroe. It is more than an imitation, it is an embodiment.
Having said all that Monroe frustrated me at first, her diva-like behaviour as she was constantly late to set seemed unjustifiable and left me far from sympathetic. It was only later as Marilyn and Colin became close that I began to understand this ephemeral character. With filming stressful Marilyn starts to depend on Colin, bunking off with him and refusing to sleep without him by her side. At this point Williams is able to show the severe vulnerability of Marilyn Monroe and brought some much-needed depth to the character. At various points the script tried to veer Marilyn towards cliché but Williams always managed to steer clear.
As essentially the lead, Eddie Redmayne as Colin was not the most dynamic of characters. Rather than do anything of interest Colin only ever seemed to have things happen to him. Not terrible in itself but I feel like Redmayne has a lot more to offer than this film gave him scope for. The only other true stand-out performance alongside Williams was from Kenneth Branagh who was gleefully camped up for his role as the great Sir Lawrence Olivier. Whenever Branagh was on-screen the film was infinitely better.
While a lot of fun My Week With Marilyn doesn’t have a lot going on beneath the surface. As the epilogue tells you at the end, this week was not the most significant for either Olivier or Monroe. Perhaps it was for Colin, but I’d have rather spent more time watching the two legends go head to head and struggle to work together. Besides, how can you ever sympathise with anyone who lets Emma Watson down?