As kiss and tells go, Colin Clark’s story of the week he spent with Marilyn Monroe is a fairly spectacular tale, and one which is superbly pieced together within the Simon Curtis film, My Week with Marilyn.
The film follows the story of 23-year-old Clark, played by Eddie Redmayne, who is clearly thrilled at managing to blag himself a role as assistant to director Laurence Olivier on the set of the 1957 film, The Prince and the Showgirl. Little did he know that he was soon to become the confidant of the most famous actress in the world, Marilyn Monroe.
Stepping bravely into Monroe’s shoes, of course, is Blue Valentine star Michelle Williams. Proving she’s come a long way since her days down at Dawson’s Creek, Williams gives the darkest, and perhaps most truthful, portrayal ever seen of the blonde bombshell on the big screen. As one of the most iconic women of the Twentieth Century, capturing the essence of Marilyn Monroe is likely to be one of the most heavily scrutinised roles in which Williams has appeared. However, from the opening scenes, which see Clark watching her shimmy her way through a reenaction of There’s No Business Like Show Business‘s hit song, ‘Heatwave’, it’s clear that Williams has done her homework. As My Week with Marilyn goes on, Williams succeeds not only in capturing the sexy, radiant, star which Monroe was best known for being, but also a more private side to the actress. From her trademark wiggle to her girlish drawl, Williams’ has undoubtedly taken time to perfect her performance, and yet manages to avoid the distraction of presenting too obvious an impersonation.
Of course, for the majority of viewers, there is little way of knowing how accurate Williams’ ‘behind-closed-doors’ portrayal of Monroe really is. Within the context of My Week with Marilyn, however, it is nothing short of mesmerising, as the audience are gradually invited to share Clark’s experience of stepping into Monroe’s private world and witness the woman behind the performance. For many of those who encountered Monroe on the set of The Prince and The Showgirl, she was certainly beautiful, but often frustrating. If she turned up at all, she was usually late, and sometimes so heavily medicated that she struggled to remember her lines. My Week with Marilyn falters perhaps in over-emphasising this. One begins to wonder how Monroe continued to have a successful acting career at all, especially when we remember that she next appeared in the critically-acclaimed Some Like It Hot. However, this side of her character works well in conjunction with Clark’s unique insight into her world. The audience are invited to discover, as he does, that there is much more to this troubled star than meets the eye.
Williams’ performance is outstanding, but Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Sir Laurence Olivier is equally watchable, and certainly the more humorous of the two roles. Aside from the unlikely, light romance between Clark and Monroe, My Week with Marilyn is driven by Monroe’s discordant relationship with Olivier, and the clash between their very different styles of acting. If The Prince and the Showgirl wasn’t the fantastic collaboration that Monroe and Olivier had hoped for, the dynamic between Williams and Branagh is certainly something quite special.
My Week with Marilyn also offers an interesting look at the beginnings of celebrity obsession, before modern security restrictions were in place. Monroe’s modest entourage offer some especially curious characters, including Zoë Wanamaker as intrusive acting coach, Paula Strasberg. Monroe’s friend, photographer and business partner, Milton H. Greene, played by Dominic Cooper, is another intriguing persona, and his relationship with Marilyn feels relatively unexplored within the constraints of Clark’s account. Emma Watson also makes an appearance, albeit a small one, as wardrobe assistant Lucy – offering a subtle touch of the everyday and going some way to counter-balancing Redmayne’s cocky and wide-eyed Clark, while he is busy being swept away by his own unbelievable luck.
Indeed, it is the fact that we are called to believe that these events, or at least a version of them, really did take place which makes this film all the more extraordinary. As a fantasy, a young man winning the affections of a seemingly untouchable movie star is fairly unremarkable. However, Clark’s real-life account of his experience not only provides My Week with Marilyn with a sense of validity, but it allows the film to explore the exceptional circumstances in which high-profile personalities let their guard down around someone who is deemed unimportant. Clark, on the other hand, is presented as a charming character, kind and foolish in equal measure, and it’s not hard to understand why he is willing to jeopardise his filmmaking career in an attempt to save one of the most beguiling actresses he was ever likely to encounter.
My Week with Marilyn hits UK cinemas on 25th November 2011.