The mystique of Monroe

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My Week with Marilyn

DIRECTOR: Simon Curtis

CAST: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Zoë Wanamaker and Dame Judi Dench


RUNNING TIME: 103 minutes

RATING: ****

It’s 1956 – “a time when you could smoke indoors” as observed by someone in this film – and Marilyn Monroe is smoking hot. But that’s how some like it, we’ve come to know. In an attempt to rid the public of all memory of her sex kitten du jour appearance, Miss Monroe decides to take on a starring role in The Prince and the Showgirl, a film directed by and co-starring British luminary Laurence Olivier.

That week spent in England’s Pinewood Studios would prove to be an unforgettable one, most of all for Colin Clark – boyishly embodied here by Eddie Redmayne – who penned the memoir this film is named after.

Coming from a wealthy, well-known family (his father was the art historian Sir Kenneth Clark), the young lad decides to, as he puts it, “run off to join the circus” by seeking a career in the film industry.

Armed with a lot of likeability and luck, the 23-year-old lands a gig as third assistant director of The Prince and the Showgirl – with Olivier as the ringmaster.

A newly married (to writer Arthur Miller) Monroe, brought to life by a doe-eyed Michelle Williams, is undoubtedly the star of the show.

Everyone including Clark is star-struck by her mere presence. It could be because of Williams’s poised silhouette, her childlike smile (she is ever careful not to make a caricature of Monroe’s iconic pout), or maybe, let’s be honest, her round and gravity-defying assets.

This film humanises Monroe’s shortcomings and stubborn nature, but doesn’t fail to highlight just how startling and unique she was.

However, to Branagh’s uptight, megalomaniac Olivier, Monroe is “the stupidest, most self-indulgent little tart I’ve ever come across”. Branagh’s scenes consist primarily of him shouting at someone or unconvincingly attempting to soothe his wife’s insecurities about the new girl on set while trying to restore his own belief in his talent and virility.

Even when she’s the weakest link on the set, which Olivier resents her for, people won’t tell Monroe “goodbye.”

The famed, older actress Sybil Thorndike (suitably played by Dame Judi Dench) not only acts like a maternal figure to Clarke and others, but offers a sympathetic hand to an American who is obviously a lesser actress who relies on her Method acting coach.

The coach, Paula Strasberg, is given a cold exterior by Zoë Wanamaker, and lies to Monroe about her talent’s limitations. But more than refusing to bite the hand that feeds her, the subtext seems to be that, try as she might, Strasberg feels sorry for the world-famous Monroe – a theme that is carried through in most of Monroe’s interactions.

Having gone on to become a documentary film-maker in later life, Clark would have us believe he alone knew the real Monroe.

The downside of the film is that Clark isn’t really memorable and is used merely as a vessel, suggesting the film could have just been called A Week With Marilyn because, predictably, Williams steals each scene she shares with Redmayne.

Using a palette of mostly whites, creams and browns in her scenes, this film seems to want us to know that when the shimmering sequinned dresses came off, Monroe was a woman who was innocent of the reality of her life and just wanted to be loved.

She tells Clark with a giddy giggle: “I’m 43, no one will love me for much longer.”

How mistaken she was.

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eileen jeboult, wrote

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02:34am on 18 February 2012
IOL Comments

williams was indeed superb as marilyn and never entered into any cliched mimicry of the hollywoood star. i disagree with the critique that clark disappeared next to her on screen. he acted perfectly the love struck youngster & acted out to perfection his puppy love! he was foil to her craving for love

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