In 1956 Colin Clark, who is now a British documentary film-maker, spent some time with Marilyn Monroe while she was working on The Prince and Showgirl (1957) in England. He later published a book, which has now been brought to the screen by Simon Curtis in My Week with Marilyn (2011).
The film that Marilyn was starring in, based on a play by Terrance Rattigan, was supposed to be a chance for the world’s most famous star to move from clichéd Hollywood roles into something a little more intellectual but yet still very entertaining, the story of simple girl who’s seduced by an eastern European prince regent (Sir Laurence Olivier, who also directed). Instead, the picture turned out to be a struggle for everyone on the set, mainly due to the tension caused by the two leads, who clashed in their attitudes towards work and were unable to overcome their personal differences.
In Curtis’s film, Marilyn is played by Michelle Williams and Olivier by Kenneth Brannagh – Colin, (Eddie Redmayne), the third assistant to the director, become something of a confidant to Monroe, and her only true friend on the set.
Much has been written about Marilyn Monroe before, showing the complexity of her life and personality. Truman Capote’s Beautiful Child was a fascinating portrait of a conflicted soul who was lost in her world yet conscious of her power as a child-woman. And, while this short text gave me a lot to think about, My Week with Marilyn does not. It’s essentially a shallow story of a young boy falling for a movie star, or of a movie star using the young boy for a few weeks – not exactly inspiring or interesting. However, does portray the characters of the main actors with colour – Williams tries her best, but does not reveal the inner richness and sadness of Marilyn’s persona.
Branagh as Olivier, on the other hand, is aggressive, rude, yet vulnerable towards Monroe’s beauty and is quite brilliant, as is Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike and Julia Ormond as Vivian Leigh. In fact, Branagh and Dench’s acting is good beyond words, so much so that it makes you feel like they are out of place in an average movie like My Week….
Basically, it’s nothing more than a passably pleasant jaunt in which the talents of some amazing British actors have definitely been wasted.