The entire reason I started My Month with Marilyn was because of the 2011 film My Week with Marilyn, based on the memoirs of Colin Clark. After much waiting the movie finally hit my theater and I thought it appropriate to review it in the context of all the Marilyn films I’ve been watching. The story is sweet, poignant, and showcases the star for who she was…which isn’t always flattering. The story tells a coming-of-age story both of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) but also Marilyn herself. Fans of Monroe should be lining up to see this and actress Michelle Williams should be given a slew of awards for her portrayal of the beautiful and damned star.
Colin Clark dreams of being in the movie business and gets a chance as the third assistant director Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on the film The Prince and the Showgirl. The problems arise as star Marilyn Monroe (Williams) arrives and is desperately trying to prove she can act. Unfortunately, nerves around her co-star and director Olivier, along with prodding from her acting coach Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) cause the film to be continuously delayed. As Colin and Marilyn grow closer, Colin learns growing up is harder when you’re in love with the most beautiful woman in the world.
I loved The Prince and the Showgirl and thought it was quirkier than expected romance, more in line with a 1960s sex comedy and showcasing Marilyn not as a dumb idiot who was hot, but a beautiful girl whose truly playful. The best thing is watching the original alongside this film and seeing just how difficult things were for Marilyn and what the finished product ultimately looked like. The film itself shows the Hollywood process, warts and all. Olivier, expertly played by Branagh, is a man who is desperate for perfection, but also trying to stay culturally relevant in the youth-oriented world of 1956. By this point Marilyn and stars like James Dean and Marlon Brando are dominating, leaving old, theater-trained actors like Olivier obsolete. Branagh is the expert on Laurence Olivier and everything from his manner of speaking to obsessively quoting Shakespeare is presented. Olivier is seen as a man who wishes to be “rejuvenated” by Marilyn alongside cursing like a sailor. He can’t understand why Marilyn can’t be “sexy,” even though the actress wants to be seen as more than that.
The movie itself is a portrait of Marilyn, but also how she was perceived by others, both actors and civilians. There’s two distinct Marilyn’s according to the star, the one everyone sees on the screen and the real woman who was afraid of being abandoned and desperately wanted a family. Marilyn knows what she is to others in a heartbreaking line, “People always see Marilyn Monroe. As soon as they realize I’m not her, they run.” It’s a quote not too far removed from Rita Hayworth, who made a similar statement after she did Gilda. Throughout, men believe they can either protect, change, or be changed by her. You see it in Olivier as mentioned above, but also in her third husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), who comes to the sad realization that their marriage won’t be working out. The fact that Marilyn suffered a miscarriage during filming is a sad reminder that she can’t seem to make a family stick as hard as she tries. Even with young women, you see Marilyn as an outcast. Young costume designer Lucy (Emma Watson) sits silently in the background as a potential romance with Colin is ended by the star and Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormand), the wife of Olivier is terrified her husband will leave her for the star. Leigh’s character is interesting as she originated the role of Elsie on stage and is replaced because she’s apparently too old at 43, to play the character. Her story is a harsh tale that females especially have a shelf life in Hollywood. As much as Marilyn wants to be taken seriously as an actress, actresses like Leigh are a reminder that in a few years, if she loses her looks it’ll be even quicker, she’ll be just as replaceable.
Williams is nothing short of fantastic as Marilyn. I had my doubts about the actress originally but she is amazing! There’s debate on whether she’s padded to get the curvy body of Ms. Monroe but regardless she inhabits the role like a second skin. You know that Williams is playing a part, but when she’s acting like Marilyn through those doe eyes or saying “Thank you” you see Marilyn Monroe for a split second. This role is how great acting can conjure up images of the greats and Williams deserves all the accolades she’ll hopefully garner for this movie. She plays Monroe’s sex kitten perfectly, but it’s when she’s sweet and at home with Colin, that you see the sweet young woman who wants to be loved, but not worshipped.
Williams is so dominating that the majority of the cast is washed out behind her. The Hollywood story of Olivier and the other actors is a riveting one, and Marilyn’s story is the whole focus. This leaves Colin’s story to be the weak piece. Yes it’s his coming of age story, realizing that Hollywood is a land of broken dreams for both him and Marilyn, but the symbolism and heart comes from Marilyn’s growing up, not his. Marilyn, and even Olivier, realize that the film “won’t help either of you,” but what can they do? Redmayne is pretty two-dimensional as Colin, but he’s only the push the other actors need to be great.
If you’re a fan of Marilyn Monroe, old Hollywood, Laurence Olivier, etc, then head out and see My Week with Marilyn!
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.