#281: My Week With Marilyn (2011)

Hyperbole is a flippant writing tool for a (prospective) film critic, but sometimes it’s just plain necessary. A case in point is Marilyn Monroe – a quick witted actress, style icon and ultimate sex symbol, her run-ins with drugs, clandestine love affairs and a shock death result in her being a true icon of American culture. It’s an incontestable, hyperbolic claim and I’m sticking with it through the bitter end.

Monroe also makes for a fantastic subject of a biopic. My Week with Marilyn is the story of the leading lady’s first visit to London in 1956 to shoot The Prince and the Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier (played here by a tight-lipped Kenneth Branagh). Amongst all the ego-massaging film crew, Monroe befriends Colin Clarke (Eddie Redmayne), a lowly director’s assistant on set who promises to show her wonderful Blighty. Initially intimidated by the demi-god, Colin goes on to connect with the emotionally distraught Marilyn. After spending an unforgettable week together, Clarke becomes infatuated with her, hoping she will give up her hectic lifestyle to be with him.  In the end, he struggles to understand if Marilyn was ever really in love with him to begin with.

A movie about cinema’s biggest ever star unsurprisingly pulls in an impressive cast. A lot of the performances are fantastic, none moreso than Michelle Williams in the titular role. After months of research looking at archive interviews and recordings, she flawlessly embodies Marilyn, leading you to a refreshingly candid, and often unlikeable portrayal of the troubled superstar, rather than being just another hackneyed impression. In the wings, the supporting cast impress too. Judi Dench is delightful as the aged actress Dame Sybil Thorndike, always willing to give Marilyn some pearls of wisdom. Zoë Wanamaker brings some sourpuss hilarity to proceedings as the brash assistant to the star, and Branagh steals the show as the equally fascinating thespian Olivier, who in 1956 was determined to break away from his stuffy, Shakespearean image and be the big mainstream movie star (and director) he always dreamed of being.

Amongst the highs are some unforgivable lows. With the film based on Colin Clake’s own memoir, it’s remarkable just how boring and vacuous he and actor Redmayne are in the role, even when he’s sleeping with the world’s biggest moviestar he is a damp squib. Dominic Cooper sticks to tradition and overacts as Marilyn’s former lover turned business partner Milton Greene; and Emma Watson shows up as a trainee costume girl, still sticking to that one bemused facial expression she perfected back in her Harry Potter days.

Away from the performances, the biggest stars of My Week With Marilyn are it’s vintage fifties good looks, with Jill Taylor’s excellent costume design and the wondruously ornate sets from .

My Week With Marilyn is a pleasant, lighthearted drama, but it’s slightness is its wrongdoing. I wanted more drama, more scandal–dare I say it–more melodrama. Heavily designed, it’s all very charming to look at, but there’s not much heart, soul or brawn in this ‘based on true accounts’ yarn to leave a longing impression. Some Like It – Not.

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