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Some Like It Marilyn
My Week with Marilyn (DVD)
Member Name: karenuk
My Week with Marilyn (DVD)
Advantages: Interesting story, great cast, accurate portrayal of Marilyn.
Disadvantages: Some minor inaccuracies, Colin Clark's original story may be untrue.
Back in 1987, I discovered Marilyn Monroe. It was the 25th anniversary of her death and the television showed a documentary on her narrated by Catherine Deneuve, followed by a showing of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I was enthralled! What a beautiful woman Marilyn was and how talented an actress. I began buying books about her and trying to watch all her films...
In 2011, the film My Week With Marilyn was released in UK cinemas. I was too pregnant to sit comfortably in the cinema, so had to miss it, but I pre-ordered the DVD and watched it as soon as I had the time. The film is based on the book of the same name by Colin Clark, who worked on the 1956 film The Prince and The Showgirl in England with Marilyn. I have read this book and do question the truth of some of it, so I was slightly worried the film would become rather sleazy and portray Marilyn as some kind of sex-mad loose woman. Thankfully I was pleased with how it was handled.
Colin Clark is 23 years old and working on his first film. As the third director's assistant, he basically gets to be a gopher, at the beck and call of Laurence Olivier, who is directing the film as well as co-starring in it. There is tension between Olivier and Marilyn, as he doesn't agree with the Method style of acting that Marilyn favours and he finds the presence of her coach Paula Strasberg on set as highly irritating. As he becomes more impatient and annoyed, his disapproval and criticism makes Marilyn more nervous and soon she is fluffing her lines, turning up late or refusing to come on set at all. Her new husband Arthur Miller returns home to the USA and as her mental health declines, Colin strikes up a friendship with the film star - but will it help her finish the film?
As a big Marilyn fan and someone who knows lots of details about her life and career, I was expecting to find lots of errors in the film and to be quite critical of it. However, although there were a few parts that were dubious (the opening and closing song-and-dance numbers, for example), they did not detract from my enjoyment and overall, I found the film very accurate, especially in how Marilyn was portrayed. They didn't play up the stereotypical "dumb blonde" image, instead concentrating on a realistic view of her, including using some direct quotes from her and having the book she was actually reading at the time placed on her bedside table (James Joyce's Ulysses). This was refreshing to see and helped my enjoyment of the film.
The way she behaved during the filming of The Prince and The Showgirl was also dealt with sympathetically. You can see how eager she is to be liked and how important it is for her to be seen as a talented actress, rather than just sexy. She is trying to be a good and devoted wife to Arthur and feels distraught at how she feels he betrays her. The scenes where Marilyn is on her bed and emotional are beautifully filmed and very moving.
Michelle Williams plays Marilyn in the film and does a superb job, the vulnerability pouring out of her characterisation so no-one could fail to be sympathetic towards her. The wardrobe, hair and make-up have all done an excellent job too, so Michelle looks enough like Marilyn to believe in her. The clothes are perfect throughout and I was also impressed with the scenes that were shot on the set of The Prince and The Showgirl, as I have seen the film several times and the recreation of the scenes were very accurate.
Kenneth Branagh is excellent as Sir Laurence Olivier too, especially reproducing the awful Germanic accent in his role in The Prince and The Showgirl (which is the worst aspect of the 1956 movie!). Olivier was quite brutal towards Marilyn and Branagh portrays this accurately, swearing at her and losing patience quite rapidly. Julia Ormond (who I loved in the film Captives some years ago with Tim Roth) played his wife Vivien Leigh and again recreated it well. I have seen plenty of photos of the press conference that was given by Olivier, Leigh, Monroe and Miller and these scenes were accurate visually and including many of the actual things that were said at the time.
While Eddie Redmayne ostensibly has the starring part as Colin Clark, he is more forgettable in some ways, being not as well-known a character and also being rather a 'grey man'. Colin is young, naive and walks around in a kind of wide-eyed innocence, as you might expect from a 23 year old who gets to hang out with international film stars! He is sweet and nice, but not particularly interesting. Although it is his story, I felt it was much more about Marilyn - and rightly so.
The cast features many names and faces that British audiences will be familiar with, including Zoe Wanamaker who is a wonderful Paula Strasberg and Emma Watson who plays a wardrobe mistress in an uncharacteristically small role for her. Sir Derek Jacobi has what can be described as a cameo, but Dame Judi Dench is brilliant as Dame Sybil Thorndike - what inspired casting! As Laurence Olivier's treatment of Marilyn becomes worse, Sybil steps in to appease the situation, saying just the right thing and calming the cast and crew.
The film is beautifully shot and a pleasure to watch. I was surprised it is rated a 15 as I felt it was more like a 12, but there is some nudity (viewed from the back) and a few 'f' words which is probably the reason. It lasts 95 minutes and the DVD includes an audio commentary with the director Simon Curtis and a documentary called The Untold Story of An American Icon. It is currently available from Amazon UK for £7.99 and you can also buy the book by Colin Clark (who died in 2002) for £5.95.
I have always been sceptical about the validity of Colin Clark's story. It is a fact he did work on the film with Marilyn, but whether they became friends or had any kind of liaison is up for debate. In the two books he wrote about this, there is just one photo of him with Marilyn and it is a group shot of the cast and crew. There are no photos of the two of them together otherwise, no-one has publically corroborated his story and I have never seen an interview with him explaining himself in more detail. This is interesting to note, but it doesn't detract from the film version. My Week With Marilyn is a wonderful film, whether you are a Marilyn fan or not.
Summary: An interesting and well-realised film.