10/24/12: My Week With Marilyn

“Everyone remembers their first job. This is the story of Colin Clark’s: The youngest in a family of overachievers. His father was a world-famous art historian; his brother was ahead of him in everything. He was always the disappointment.”

Simon Curtis’ drama, My Week With Marilyn, details a week in the life of Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), a 23-year-old recent college graduate whose dream of becoming a filmmaker runs contrary to his parents’ wishes. His father hopes he’ll take a job as a researcher at the world-famous Victoria & Albert Museum in London when he “[grows] up a bit & [gets] “this film idea out of [his] system”. When Colin learns of the impending London filming of The Prince and the Showgirl, he heads there & is resigned to hang around the set doing whatever he can for no pay just to get his feet in the backstage door. The Prince (and Director) is Sir Laurence Olivier played wonderfully by Kenneth Branagh. My first reaction was that he’s too big to play the slight Oliver, but his characterization is so spot on that my disbelief was suspended almost immediately. The Showgirl (and Co-Executive Producer) is Marilyn Monroe, and Michelle Williams has her looks & mannerisms as both Marilyn & Norma Jean DOWN! Because of Colin’s eagerness to do anything for the film & filmmaker, he soon lands a job as 3rd Assistant Director & his week begins. Adrian Hodges’ screenplay is adapted from the real Colin Clark’s two non-fiction books, “My Week with Marilyn” and “The Prince, the Showgirl and Me”.


Marilyn is protected & coddled. Her notorious drug & alcohol addictions are sustained by her business partner & Co-Executive Producer, Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper). Marilyn studied The Method under Lee Strasberg & her coach, Lee’s wife Paula (Zoë Wanamaker), accompanies her & is with her constantly during rehearsal & filming – always lavishing her with compliments irrespective of the quality the performance. This is one source of tremendous irritation to Olivier, an extremely vocal critic of The Method. He cannot help but remember how brilliant his wife Vivien Leigh (Julia Ormond) is in the role on stage. But the screen version requires a younger, sexier Showgirl. Colin is Assistant Director David Orton’s (Robert Portal) doormat. But Marilyn adores him & Sir Laurence thinks he is a go-getter. Dame Sybil Thorndike, the supporting actress in The Prince, provides needed balance to the various character’s contradictory treatment of Colin & Marilyn. Dame Judi Dench is stunning in this role. And finally, Wardrobe Girl, Lucy (Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter films), is bewitching to Colin until he meets Marilyn.

My Week With Marilyn is a film about youthful exuberance, infatuation, the sexual revolution, the changing of the guard, and addiction. It’s flirtatious & tasteful. It’s joyous & sad. It shows Marilyn, the manipulated sex symbol whose star shone bright because of her talent – her overwhelming command of any sound stage or screen she graced, whether accompanied by Sir Laurence Olivier, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Vivien Lee or Colin Clark!

My Week With Marilyn received 2 Oscar nominations earlier this year at the 84th Academy Awards: Michelle Williams for Best Actress and Kenneth Branagh for Supporting Actor. It was Michelle’s third nomination & Kenneth’s fifth. Neither has yet to take home a statue. Michelle’s previous nominations were for Blue Valentine (Actress) the year before, and Brokeback Mountain (Supporting Actress) in 2006. Branagh’s nominations have all been for different Oscars: Adapted Screenplay (Hamlet in ’96); Live Action Short (Swan Song in ’92); and Actor & Director (Henry V in ’89). The only other nominee in 5 different categories is George Clooney who won for Supporting Actor in 2005  for his role as Bob Barnes in Syriana.

Branagh’s career is an eerie shadow of Olivier’s. Olivier starred in Stuart Burge’s Othello in 1965; Branagh played Iago in Oliver Parker’s version 30 years later. Both directed & starred in Hamlet – Olivier was Best Actor (his only non-Honorary Academy Award) & nominated as Director in 1949 at the 21st Academy Awards. Olivier directed, helped adapt the screenplay for & starred in Henry V in 1944 (he received an Honorary Oscar in 1947 for outstanding achievement as an actor, producer & director in bringing it to the screen – he was not credited for the screenplay); Branagh was unassisted in adapting his screenplay. Olivier was nominated for Best Actor in 1973 as Andrew Wyke in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Sleuth at the 45th Academy Awards; in 2007, Branagh directed, was main producer for, and played an uncredited cameo role in the remake.

While I’m not about to knight Kenneth Branagh as the next Laurence Oliver – widely regarded as one of the greatest actors in the history of motion pictures – his performance is masterful. This is a wonderful, uplifting, not to be missed movie. Whether you’re a fan of Marilyn’s compelling personality or sexiness; advocate or question The Method; long to be Prospero or to join the circus: See it! 4 Stars.


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