Film: My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn | Director Simon Curtis | Score: 6.2

True movie stars, it is said, have a charisma so palpable there is an attendant glow emanating from them (hence, I suppose, the allusion to heavenly bodies in the term). Imagine being a callow lad of 23 and hornswagling your way on the set of a film only to end up face-to-face with the single biggest movie star in the world. Then imagine the two of you fall in love, albeit for the briefest (and most chaste) of times.

Colin Clark, a writer and filmmaker, apparently experienced exactly that scenario as a “third assistant director” to Sir Laurence Olivier during the making of the comedy The Prince and the Showgirl in England in 1956, which saw none other than Marilyn Monroe coming across the pond, to put her method acting chops in the hands of the heralded thespian who simply couldn’t abide the stuff (it was Olivier, after all, who famously snipped to Dustin Hoffman “Have you ever tried acting, dear boy?” after Hoffman had intentionally stayed awake for days in order to achieve a particular effect in Marathon Man). It was to be a pivotal time for all involved: Marilyn was already a transcendent star, though arguably her biggest film (Some Like It Hot) was still a couple of years away; Olivier, the prince of British theatre was feeling old and watching his powers wane in the face of the new generation. That the two actors came together at all was certainly peculiar. As posited by Clark (Eddie Redmayne) during a conversation with Marilyn, it might very well have been primarily to assure each other of their universal relevancy.

In any case, the film shoot was dogged by a wispy and unreliable Marilyn — who had just been married, a third time, to Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) — and the tremendous gulf of thespian philosophy between the two leads. In the course of things, Marilyn becomes increasingly neurotic and unsure of herself, despite the sycophantic warbling by her ever-present acting coach, Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker), and begins to rely on doleful, charming Colin to make her feel better. After Miller leaves to return back to New York, the two of them embark on a sort of sexless affair, until it becomes clear to both of them where Marilyn’s true priorities lie.

Williams, who seemingly has unlimited range, does an excellent job of finding the heightened contradictions in Marilyn. No one, it seems, has ever been both as eternally vulnerable and as captivatingly sexy and demonstrative as Monroe, whether or not, as Olivier muses, she’s using the one to augment the other quite by choice. She has the Monroe cadence, the put-upon wide-eyed innocence that one can’t (or is helplessly reluctant) to see through. Branagh, too, is in fine form, capturing the tremendous, unrelenting ego of Olivier, who really does try to do well by an actress he simply can’t fathom. Of course, the film they are shooting, like the affair in question, is of light consequence in the grand scheme of the Monroe iconography: She would go on to become an even bigger star before taking her own life in 1962. But the impact she made on everyone else around her was entirely more profound, the glow remaining undiminished in our collective memories, and perhaps to none more so than in the fervently welcome nostalgia of at least one particular former stagehand.

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Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for two.one.five magazine (215mag.com). His reviews can be found on 215mag.com and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success.  You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.

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