$10 ticket on a scale of $0 to $13.50
There is one thing a little creepy about “My Week with Marilyn,” the Simon Curtis – helmed account of the making of “The Prince and the Showgirl,” the 1957 movie produced and directed by Laurence Olivier, who also starred in it opposite Marilyn Monroe. It is voyeuristic. Colin Clark, who was the 23-year-old third assistant director on the Olivier picture, wrote the books on which pic is based, “My Week with Marilyn” and “The Prince, the Showgirl and Me,” both based on the diary he kept during the making of the 1957 film. An English gentleman of his generation did not publish intimate details about the lives of women.
It’s no secret that Monroe, played ably by Michelle Williams working with far better material than she had in the awful “Blue Valentine” in 2010, was unstable. Between the pills, the booze, the dreadful childhood, the creep of a husband in writer Arthur Miller (played by Dougray Scott), and the method acting coach (Zoë Wanamaker convincingly cast as Paula Strasberg), Monroe was a mess. Her “illnesses” were legendary. She rarely made it to the set on time. She could do one thing well: She could project on screen the sultry seductress with an overlay of innocence that was pure comic genius. The only thing she knows how to do is “be” Marilyn Monroe. In the presence of fans she throws a switch and goes from insecure to the public Marilyn. She was emotionally fragile, and she needed someone to mind her whom she could trust. Enter Colin Clark, played here by Eddie Redmayne. The pair develop an intimate but not sexual relationship. He befriends her. He learns her innermost secrets. They go skinny-dipping. He helps her through a miscarriage. In your critic’s opinion publishing the details of their relationship is a betrayal. It’s not the only betrayal of Monroe in the picture. Husband Miller lets her get hold of his notes for “After the Fall,” a tragedy based on her life which opened on the stage two years after her death. It devastates her. This would be a five-star comedy if your critic did not feel the need for a shower after watching it.
Olivier’s wife, Vivien Leigh (played by Julia Ormond), had played the Monroe part on the London stage, but she was recast by her husband (played here by Kenneth Branagh, who, like his character has played his share of Shakespeare) for the film by Monroe, arguably the biggest female star in Hollywood at the time. It drove him crazy to work with her, but Branagh clearly conveys his admiration for her on-screen ability in scenes watching the rushes.
The contrast between British actors trained on the stage and a Hollywood star cannot be more stark. Monroe travels with an entourage. Toby Jones is notable as her rumpled public relations man. She has to “create.” The Brits hit their marks and say their lines and make very little fuss about it.
Other than the train wreck that was Monroe off screen, “My Week with Marilyn” is notable for a noteworthy cast, especially Judi Dench as Sybil Thorndike, who played the dowager queen in the 1957 comedy, Emma Watson as Clark’s girlfriend, Lucy the wardrobe mistress whom he neglects in favor of Monroe, and Derek Jacobi as Sir Owen Morshead, head archivist at Windsor Castle and Clark’s uncle. Thanks to the family connection, Marilyn gets a private tour of Her Majesty’s library. There’s also a neat bit of trivia. Colin Clark who died in 2002 at age 70 (he was seven years younger than the then 30-year-old Monroe) is the son of Lord Kenneth Clark, the narrator of the noted TV series, Civilisation, and younger brother of the late Alan Clark, a noted car guy and the English Minister of Transport under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Pic benefits from a straightforward screenplay by Adrian Hodges, sure-footed direction by Curtis, competent lensing by Ben Smithard, sound recording that leaves little to be desired, and a score by Alexandre Desplat that is perfectly integrated into the material. Williams proves her vocal chops at warbling some tunes made famous by Monroe in Hollywood musicals. Best of all, pic does not drag. Its 99 minutes virtually fly by. That’s good, because although it is a comedy, the underlying tragedy of Monroe and her unfortunate demise only a few years later could make it a sluggish weeper. Thank Adam Recht for some discipline in the cutting room. Williams really does not have the physical equipment to play Monroe, but she gives it a good go, and the make-up and costumes help.
“My Week with Marilyn” is a period piece set and shot in England. Few places have changed as much as England in the past 50 years. Kudos to production designer Donal Woods; even the period cars are spot-on.
Pic is rated “R” for some language and adult themes. The kids won’t understand most of it. Leave them with the babysitter.