Saturday, 4 February 2012
FILM REVIEW: MY WEEK WITH MARILYN
Much like The Iron Lady, My Week With Marilyn succeeds or fails on whether or not you believe the recognisable leading lady as the recognisable historical figure, in this instance, the most recognisable woman on the planet in 1956, Marilyn Monroe.
And at first it seems as though Michelle Williams, a fine actress who often manages to do so much with so little (see Blue Valentine and the films of Kelly Reichardt), may have bitten off more than she can chew in accepting the role of the blonde bombshell.
Williams has the hair, the curves and the voice (including singing) down pat, but her fleeting presence in the early stages of the film have you fearing the essence of Marilyn may have eluded her.
But then Simon Curtis's film, penned by Adrian Hodges from two memoirs by Colin Clark, settles down, focussing on the week in question and bringing Marilyn the woman into sharper focus.
That week was when Monroe, in England for the summer of 1956 to shoot The Prince And The Showgirl with Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh), absconded with the production's third assistant director, Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne), to escape the pressures on and off the set.
Beautiful, talented but highly insecure, Monroe relied on her entoruage (including acting coach, Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker), and agent Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper)), to keep her confidence high and her moods in check; pills and alcohol playing a far greater role than soothing words. But in the young, naive and far-too-honest Colin, Marilyn seems to find someone in whom she can confide, someone "on her side".
And it's in these scenes where Williams's Monroe transitions from solid impersonation to a full-bodied character, capturing the mix of womanly wiles and little girl lost residing in the same woman; a woman who knows that 'Marilyn' is just an act but one the rest of the world, including current (third) husband, playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), can't seem (or want) to get beyond.
Surprisingly good also is Kenneth Branagh. Cynically, I originally believed that the Brit actor-director's turn as Laurence Olivier was garnering awards attention (Golden Globe, SAG and BAFTA nominations) in much the same way that Morgan Freeman did two years ago for playing Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood's Invictus (2009): a form of manifest destiny.
Whether intentionally or not, Branagh's career has been modelled on Olivier's -- a young actor-writer-director keen to bring Shakespeare to the masses via film -- so to play his hero in film sees his career trajectory come somewhat full circle.
Branagh may not look like his idol but he capture's the man's self possession and insecurity, simultaneously commanding of those around him and yet exasperated with the antics of his leading lady, whom he wishes to impress, seduce and, hopefully, have some of her stardust rub off on him. It doesn't hurt either that Branagh's Olivier gets the lion's share of the film's best and funniest lines.
It's these two performances (both Oscar-nominated), and the film's behind-the-scenes look at world of 1950s filmmaking and the inherent nostalgia -- something to be found in so many 2011 films: Hugo, The Artist, War Horse, Midnight In Paris -- which makes My Week With Marilyn the enjoyably sweet film that it is.