MY WEEK WITH MARILYN Delightful Tale of Two Film Icons

my-week-with-marilyn-posterBlu-Ray Review:  MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011)

By

Michael Arruda

 

I missed Michelle Williams’ Oscar-nominated performance as Marilyn Monroe when MY WEEK WITH MARILYN played in theaters two years ago, and so I was happy to finally catch up with this one on Blu-Ray the other night.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011) is based on the book “The Prince, The Showgirl, and Me” by Colin Clark, a memoir of how Clark worked as a third assistant to Laurence Olivier on the movie THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957) and how he met and got to know the film’s other star, Marilyn Monroe.

Young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is eager to break into the movie business, and he catches his break when Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) agrees to let him help out around the set.  Colin quickly makes himself indispensable, and soon he’s hired as a third assistant, which means he’s a glorified errand boy.

Olivier is making movie THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, and he’s excited as it’s giving him the chance to work with American icon and movie star, Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).  When they need a house for Monroe to live in while she’s in England, they turn to Colin, and he impresses his employers when he actually books two houses, since the owner of the first house blabbed to reporters that Monroe would be living there.  The owner of the second house was much more discreet.

Things on the set are a disaster.  Monroe is constantly late and uncomfortable, prompting Olivier to be impatient and rude.  He also doesn’t approve of Monroe’s method style of acting, or the fact that she’s brought along her personal acting coach.  But when Monroe asks Colin to come to her house for a visit, she quickly warms up to him and finds in him a sympathetic ear, and thus begins a relationship in which Colin not only finds himself inside Monroe’s inner circle but also developing feelings for her.  Ultimately Olivier doesn’t mind because Monroe loosens up on the set and her disposition improves, to the point where she finally begins to click onscreen.

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN is a delightful movie that tells an entertaining story and features some very strong acting performances.

I really enjoyed Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe.  She certainly deserved her Oscar nomination.  I’m late jumping on the Michelle Williams bandwagon.  While I did enjoy her performance as Glinda the Good Witch in OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013), before that she failed to wow me in SHUTTER ISLAND (2010), and I was never a DAWSON’S CREEK fan.  But after seeing her in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, combined with her work on OZ, needless to say, I’m paying attention now.

Even better than Williams is Kenneth Branagh as Sir Laurence Olivier.  I’ve long been a Branagh fan, and to see him play Olivier is a special treat, since many consider him to be the Olivier of his generation.  Branagh was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor here, and like Williams, he didn’t win.

Eddie Redmayne is also excellent as Colin Clark.  It’s a splendidly sincere performance by Redmayne, and he comes off as so likeable it’s easy to understand why both Monroe and Olivier liked and respected him so much.  Redmayne followed up this performance with the role of Marius in last year’s muddled LES MISERABLES (2012), and I remember him as being one of the highlights of that movie.  He certainly had one of the better singing voices in the film.

The supporting cast here is also excellent.  Leading the way is Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike, and it was nice to see her in a much more sympathetic role than her recent turns as “M” in the James Bond movies.  Also on hand is Harry Potter’s Hermione herself, Emma Watson, as Colin’s love interest Lucy, that is, when he’s not hanging out with Marilyn Monroe.  I wouldn’t mind having this guy’s love life.

Philip Jackson is especially memorable as Roger Smith, the man Olivier hires to keep an eye on Monroe to keep her out of trouble.  Jackson makes Smith a loyal protector of Monroe rather than a nosy spy.

Equally as memorable is Dominic Cooper, who plays Milton Greene, a young man who works with Monroe and who is increasingly jealous of her relationship with Colin.  Cooper has been in a bunch of movies lately, including DEAD MAN DOWN (2013), ABRAHAM LINCOLN:  VAMPIRE HUNTER (2012), and CAPTAIN AMERICA:  THE FIRST AVENGER (2011), and he’s been good in all of these.

Character actor Toby Jones is also on hand and gets to enjoy a couple of scene-stealing moments.  Jones is the son of Freddie Jones, an actor who has enjoyed a long and distinguished acting career, and who I always remember as Professor Richter in Hammer’s FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

My favorite part of MY WEEK WITH MARILYN was the dynamic between Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, as they were like oil and water on the set together.  One of the best lines in the movie comes when Colin sums up the reason why he thinks Olivier and Monroe struggle to get along:  because Olivier is a great actor who wants to be a movie star, and Monroe is a movie star who wants to be a great actor.

It’s an excellent script by Adrian Hodges, full of great lines and sincere scenes that are as moving and touching as they are humorous.  Branagh gets some of the best lines in the film, as Olivier’s patience is put to the test as he has to deal with Monroe’s idiosyncrasies and constant tardiness on the set.  And these lines work as well as they do because we know and understand that Olivier truly admires Monroe and he believes she’s brilliant on screen, and the fact that she’s not working smoothly with him nor responding to his direction is driving him nuts.

Directed by Simon Curtis. MY WEEK WITH MARILYN also does a nice job capturing the time and the setting of 1950s England.  The details in the sets and costumes are first-rate.  The film looks great, thanks to the cinematography by Ben Smithard.

And you can’t talk about MY WEEK WITH MARILYN without mentioning the make-up department.  Obviously, Michelle Williams looked stunningly authentic as Marilyn Monroe.  Anything less and the movie doesn’t work as well.  But the make-up unit also did an excellent job on Kenneth Branagh.  He really resembles Olivier in this movie, and it’s fun to watch certain shots where the lighting combined with the make-up and the way his hair is combed, where he really looks like Olivier.

If you like movies about film history and its icons, you’ll be thoroughly satisfied with MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, a wonderful movie that tells the story of what happened when the greatest actor of his generation met the greatest movie star of hers, and how one enterprising and sincere young man found himself in the middle of it all and in the position to make the whole thing work.

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