There are some good performances in My Week With Marilyn. Indeed, there are one or two absolutely great performances. Yet the whole thing feels quite light and incomplete, it gives us a glimpse but not enough. Unlike, for example, the excellent Me & Orson Welles. There just doesn’t seem to be enough here to get your teeth into. And yet, scratch below the surface and there’s a lot here to ponder. This film has made me appreciate just how wide open the world is nowadays and how accessible anyone can be. It’s even made me appreciate those tabloid moments when we see celebrities exposed in some tawdry and sensational scandal (or, alternatively, just being caught out and about without make-up on). Because the alternative, as it occurred to people like Marilyn Monroe and the biggest stars of yesteryear, is equally horrible for a number of reasons. They managed to light up the screen and the lives of audience members. They were far and away above mere mortals. They were proper, revered, stars and everyone tried to get some of that stardust whenever the opportunity arose. People wanted a piece of their idols, seeing and loving the likes of Marilyn Monroe while forgetting that beneath the glitz and the onscreen sizzle there was still a young woman called Norma Jeane Baker, who just couldn’t stand to be lonely.
Of course, there’s something strange about this kind of material. A star (Marilyn Monroe, played by Michelle Williams) being shown in a different light by someone who only had the briefest moment in their lives (Colin Clark, played by Eddie Redmayne). It should feel opportunistic and unimportant but, instead, allows us to see a very different side of someone that so many people already assume they know or knew. Clark sees Marilyn at her best and worst, he also sees Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) trying to deal with a “star” as opposed to a dedicated thespian. There’s support for the star from Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) and Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), amongst others, but the tension gets worse as Marilyn is “abandoned” by Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), her husband of the time.
There’s nothing in the mix here that makes the movie sizzle – the direction form Simon Curtis makes the whole thing feel like a rather bland “Hallmark” movie while the script by Adrian Hodges has one or two great lines but also has a lot of flat patches and covers the same ground in almost every other scene (Marilyn is a great star but not a great actress and she’s also struggling with a lot of internal worries and anxieties that often overshadow her entire day) – and so it is left to the performances to raise the overall viewing experience.
Sadly, Eddie Redmayne isn’t a very appealing leading man. Whether that is due to the character he is playing or the way he is playing him is hard to tell, I think it’s more a mix of the two, but he just doesn’t ever come across as all that likeable and that makes the movie feel a bit more potentially embellished. It’s hard to imagine Marilyn enjoying his company so much. As the woman herself, the beautiful Michelle Williams lights up the screen and perfectly mixes the radiant star quality with the vulnerability and the turbulent mess hiding just below the surface. Branagh is, as you’d expect, wonderful as Laurence Olivier and Judi Dench is an absolute delight as the warm and giving Dame Sybil Thorndike. The rest of the cast, with one or two exceptions, do well. Zoe Wanamaker, Philip Jackson, Dominic Cooper, Dougray Scott and Derek Jacobi are very good while Emma Watson suffers by being made as bland and unappealing as Redmayne’s character and Julia Ormond is sadly underused.
My Week With Marilyn isn’t essential viewing. It doesn’t really show anything new about the character or depict a particularly historic moment but it’s a nice enough snapshot of that particular time in Miss Monroe’s life and it’s a very respectful reminder of just why the most enduring icons and stars of the silver screen got to their lofty position.
DIRECTOR: SIMON CURTIS
WRITER: ADRIAN HODGES (BASED ON THE BOOKS BY COLIN CLARK)
STARS: MICHELLE WILLIAMS, EDDIE REDMAYNE, KENNETH BRANAGH, JUDI DENCH, ZOE WANAMAKER, EMMA WATSON, PHILIP JACKSON, TOBY JONES, DOMINIC COOPER, DOUGRAY SCOTT, JULIA ORMOND, DEREK JACOBI, MICHAEL KITCHEN
RUNTIME: 99 MINS APPROX