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My Week With Marilyn (AF)


Stars: Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Emma Watson, Julia Ormond, Judi Dench, Dominic Cooper, Dougray Scott, Derek Jacobi, Toby Jones, Zoe Wanamaker, Michael Kitchen, Jim Carter, Simon Russell Beale

Director: Simon Curtis

I probably spent rather too much of my youth hanging round movie sets working as a film extra. Serendipitously the job required no particular talent apart from doing what the assistant directors ordered, one day’s work paid a week’s rent in one’s digs and, best of all for those of who didn’t live at home, there was the chance of a free hot meal. And, apart from welcome bacon sandwiches, being an extra gave me a chance to see how films were made. Which probably accounts for my deep distrust of the auteur theory.

All of which helps explain why I enjoyed My Week with Marilyn so very much. For my money (I know, a fatuous phrase for someone who gets to see movies free) it’s the best film about making a movie I’ve seen – and that includes Sunset Boulevard and Day for Night/La Nuit Americaine.

Curtis’ film, well scripted by Adrian Hodges and based on the books by Colin Clark, charts the latter’s experience as a third assistant director (i.e. gopher) for director Laurence Olivier while he was having a hellish time directing – or trying to direct - Marilyn Monroe in his film of Terence Rattigan’s minor romantic comedy The Sleeping Princeas The Prince and the Showgirl at Britain’s Pinewood Studios. Olivier hoped that working with Monroe would improve his cinema box-office appeal, she in turn hoped the film would help her be taken for a serious actress. The shoot turned into a nightmare. Monroe, recently married to intellectual playwright Arthur Miller, was insecure, exploited and in thrall to domineering, emotional vampire drama coach Paula Strasberg, here chillingly played by Wanamaker.

Against the odds, Monroe and Clark bonded, taking them to Eton, Windsor Castle and camp-as-a-row-of-tents Jacobi as the Queen’s librarian in a relationship that completely convinces and is perhaps best summed up by a sequence where Monroe goes skinny-dipping while Clark – as befits an Old Etonian - keeps his pants on.

Curtis strikes a perfect balance between the making of The Prince and the Showgirl’ with all its accompanying nightmares – Monroe’s late appearances, complete absences from the set and failure to react the way director/star Olivier wants. All the performances (apart from the miscasting of the actor who play’s Monroe’s supporting star Richard Wattis) are picture perfect.

Williams is a magnificent Monroe, capturing the stars’ emotional insecurities, extraordinary on-and-off-screen sex appeal and vulnerability, with an Oscar worthy performance, reinvigorating memories of the original as a person, actress and vampish singer. Branagh, too, is superb as the luvvie of all luvvies actor-director while Redmayne achieves stardom with a clever characterization in a role that could all too easily have simply become a cipher.

For once, here’s a film financed by the BBC that actually justifies the Corporation’s spending our licence money.

Alan Frank

UK 2011. UK Distributor: Entertainment. Technicolor.
100 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 26 Nov 2011