Movie review: My Week With Marilyn by Simon Curtis

Director: Simon Curtis
Michelle Williams – Marilyn Monroe
Colin Clark – Eddie Redmayne
Sir Laurence Olivier: Kenneth Brannagh
Vivien Leigh- Julia Ormond


It is a movie based on facts. In 1956 Marilyn Monroe went on her first trip to London. She was supposed to combine work and pleasure: it was her honeymoon right after the marriage with the playwright Arthur Miller and she was invited to star along Sir Laurence Olivier in The Prince and the Showgirl. The film follows closely the shooting, especially one week of it.

Marilyn, alienated and lonely especially when Miller leaves England, develops peculiar relationship with Colin Clark, a 23-year old film student just down from Oxford who grubs the spot of third assistant director. Colin, fascinated with the great actress, soon finds out that the idol of Marilyn Monroe has big fat cracks all over it – Marilyn is emotionally unstable, already addicted to some dubious pills, fickle and very difficult to work with. Apparently fame and beauty do not always make a pretty picture. As Miller leaves England very soon, the coast is clear for Colin to introduce Marilyn to some of the pleasures of British life; an idyllic week in which he escorts Monroe, desperate to get away from her retinue of Hollywood hangers-on and the pressures of work, showing her castles, rivers, pieces of art and the famous English countryside. Will she be tempted to drop her noxious, demanding career for quiet life – with him? My impressions:

English: Cropped screenshot of Marilyn Monroe ...
Cropped screenshot of  real Marilyn Monroe in the trailer for the film The Prince and the Showgirl (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The story is told and seen from the standpoint of the film’s star-struck third assistant director, Colin Clark, son of the great art historian Kenneth, and younger brother of the notorious Tory MP Alan. The movie-mad youngster had managed to find a job in Olivier’s production office as an office boy/jack-of-all-trades. I admit I envied him. Not only had he good education and great plans which he yearned to accomplish, he also had that rich family to fall back on in case something went wrong. As a kind of bonus he also had an opportunity to meet one of the most desirable women of that time and something in him, perhaps his youthful innocence and honest concern, caught the eye of Marilyn herself. With her genius for enslaving men she made him her private confidant and helpmate – you must admit a bit shady position with a new husband hanging around…or even safely gone. Of course Colin fell hard for the bewitching star to a point of proposing, poor lad. Of course she refused, breaking his heart. Still he was left with memories to die for and she managed to shoot that movie to the very end.

Michelle Williams as MM – similar?

What I liked the most  was the fact that the film offered a realistic look into Monroe’s struggle to be herself and a good professional as well . Like most of actresses the real Marilyn was a woman shockingly different from her stage persona. Watching her sweetie-sweetie act it is easy to forget her mother was placed in an insane asylum and her father was never identified; Marilyn had no real childhood and that early abandonment deeply plagued all her adult life. Monroe whispers to Clark in one scene: “People always see Marilyn Monroe. As soon as they realize I’m not her, they run,” underscoring the frustration she battled facing the incongruities between the person she wanted to be and the image of her that had been ingrained in peoples’ minds, that of glamour, lusty mystery and infinite joie de vivre.

Let me tell you that Michelle Williams, although not especially similar to Marilyn from the physical point of view, played her very well indeed. It was a show inside a show watching her as she shimmied for the crowd and swerved her hips, flashing that wide-mouthed-pearly-white smile and sensually placing her index finger over her red lips. Also Kenneth Branagh was tremendous as Olivier. I especially liked one of his facial expressions – when the corners of his mouth extended outwards, in a grimace of distaste, and his eyes became black discs, like the eyes of a rattlesnake preparing to digest a large mammal. ;p He should play some baddies, he would be great at it!

Eddie Redmayne also excelled in the challenging task of playing Clark, an intelligent but inexperienced young man who has to toss up between a relationship with a pretty wardrobe mistress (Emma Watson – it was her first big-screen role since Harry Potter) and a chance of love with the most famous woman on Earth (and of course you don’t need to be a genius to guess who he chose). Although sometimes he was almost too naïve for his own good, it was still believable.

I didn’t like the fact that the movie was a bit too predictable. Even if you don’t know much about Marilyn Monroe and you aren’t a big fan of the cinema in general it is very likely you will still know how the career of that particular actress ended and no, it wasn’t a happy ending at all. That’s why I found it sometimes hard to keep my interest up, especially during those one-to-one scenes between Marilyn and Colin. It was almost painful to watch how the boy was fighting a losing battle against all odds, knowing fully well he had no chance from the very beginning.

Final verdict:

I admit in my opinion My Week With Marilyn is relatively light fare: it doesn’t pretend to offer any great psychological insight, it doesn’t surprise you with unknown facts or theories; instead it gives a great deal of pleasure and fun, and an unpretentious homage to a terrible and mostly forgotten British movie that somehow, behind the scenes, generated a very tender almost-love story. The film didn’t end with a fairly-tale HEA (and who would believe it if it did), but at least it isn’t overly bitter either. Overall I don’t regret watching this one (and I would like to thank Tasha for her review which made me interested)

Marilyn, Richard Avedon
One of the best portraits of Marilyn by Richard Avedon (Photo credit: amaianos)
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