My Week With Marilyn


(out of 5)

The ancient tradition of coming-of-age stories is once again trotted out as abandons his aristocratic homestead in the country and heads to Pinewood Studios in search of his dream of making it in the movies. Thanks to family connections and his own dogged determination to not be turned away, he wheedles his way onto the set of Laurence Olivier’s new production of The Sleeping Prince (later to be retitled The Prince and The Showgirl) and finds himself not only in the presence of the century’s most famous British actor and director (embodied here by ) but also the world’s most famous woman, Marilyn Monroe (). Monroe arrives on the scene and becomes everyone’s biggest problem: her insistence on finding her way into a near-fairy-tale character through the Method (with her gorgon of an acting coach Paula Strasberg, played by , in tow) makes her Olivier’s greatest nightmare, not to mention that this is the point where the combination of her volatile personality and her increasing reliance on substances was beginning to take its  toll. Redmayne, in spending time with the starlet and falling deeply in puppy love with her, also notices that the two giants at the head of this project are at war because of a deep, fundamental insecurity they share: he, Redmayne points out, is a great actor who wants to be a movie star, and she is a movie star who wants desperately to be a great actress.  The young man’s combination of enthusiasm and charm captures the twinkle in the great icon’s eye and she spends a few days letting him in to see the little girl behind the glamorous mask: or does she? This film follows the “I was never the same again after that summer” narrative with such alarming familiarity (right down to the opening and closing narration told from the point of view of a wiser perspective) that it should not be nearly as mesmerizing as it is, nor should the performances be as enjoyable as they are given the minimal verisimilitude they bear to their real-life counterparts.  Branagh does a terrific accent as Olivier but does not have his imposing stature or graceful bearing, ‘s Sybil Thorndike reveals her to be as delightful in life as she was in the film but she is the opposite of Thorndike’s fine-boned eccentricity, and is superb as Vivien Leigh but fails to recall the twinkly-eyed coquette that was starting to fade at this point in time.  As the icon at the centre of the story, Williams gives a richly layered, fascinating portrayal of the world’s greatest movie star that captures the woman’s nature but does not go far enough in re-enacting the goddess: she’s beautiful and the makeup effects are impressive, but Williams does not have the luminous quality that Marilyn possessed (perhaps it’s in the eyes—Williams has a solid, steady gaze while much of Marilyn’s rocket-ship charisma came from the fact that hers were never sure if they were miserable or elated). If they were not all based on real people these actors would probably come off better, but the film does not suffer greatly for these flaws.  Redmayne is so terribly likable that he makes the old feel new again, and the screenplay does a wise job of creating a rich character of “Marilyn Monroe” that reflects the ambivalence of her being the “Little Girl Lost” at the same time that she was a ferociously selfish mess. Watching her navigate between these extremes, and watching to see if Redmayne will survive them, is actually exciting; in the film’s best sequence, they spend a day visiting Eton and she quickly whispers, “Shall I be her?” before wiggling her famous tush to a group of the school’s starstruck staff members. Beyond that, the recreations of scenes from The Prince and The Showgirl are quite impressive, and the nostalgia-tinged cinematography is pristine.

, , , ,

United Kingdom/USA, 2011

Directed by

Screenplay by , based on the books My Week With Marilyn and The Prince, The Showgirl and Me by

Cinematography by

Produced by ,

Music by

Production Design by

Costume Design by

Film Editing by

Academy Awards 2011

Golden Globe Awards 2011

Screen Actors Guild Awards 2011.  

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