Monday, 11 June 2012

My Week With Marilyn: Wiggle It

In this entertaining and engaging film, Colin Clark, an employee of Sir Laurence Olivier’s, documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe during production of The Prince and the Showgirl. It really does concern the events of one week (although they seem to be typical and exemplary of a much greater timespan), allowing director Simon Curtis to maintain a tight focus and avoid the rambling pitfalls of many a biopic.
Eddie Redmayne is charming and fresh as the besotted Colin Clark
Of course, Marilyn is the star of the show and Michelle Williams outstandingly captures her allure and vulnerability. She is crippled with insecurity about her true identity and her acting talent, surrounding herself with an entourage of admirers and sycophants, including Milton Green (Dominic Cooper in truly unctuous form) who supplies her with pills for everything, and drugs her up to manage her, and the chauffeur and chaperone, Barry (Jim Carter), who attempts to exert some measure of concerned control.

She particularly shines among the ‘common people’ – at Eton or the local pub, where she tells the landlord, “Nice place you’ve got here”. It is enough to warm his soul and he would dine out on such a chance remark for years. She knows it, but she can afford to be generous with her winsome smile.

"Shall I be Her?"
“Shall I be her?” Marilyn asks on a trip to Windsor Castle, where she is shown around by Sir Owen Morshead, Colin’s relation, acted with sensitive understanding by Derek Jacobi. She is struck by the fabulous dolls’ house and opens it up to look inside, murmuring, “Every girl should be told how pretty she is and how much her mother loves her.”

Marilyn grew up in other people’s homes with her own mother in an asylum. She doesn’t know who her father is and seeks approval from the establishment who are smitten with her sex appeal although they don’t much care for her personality. Her current husband, Arthur Miller (played with assured nonchalance by Dougray Scott) complains, “I can’t work; I can’t think; she’s devouring me” and he leaves her to return to America, which threatens to tip her into suicidal despair. Green explains, “You don’t leave Marilyn alone. She thinks everyone’s abandoned her”, and she questions through a drug-induced haze, “Why do the people I love always leave me?”

Dougray Scott as Arthur Miller and Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn worries that no one cares for who she really is; they are simply besotted by her persona. “All the people want is Marilyn Monroe and then they realise I’m not her.” Yet she plays to the myth, pouting and winking and talking in her ridiculous baby doll voice. Although she claims, “I’m not a goddess. I just want to be a regular girl,” she is keen to seduce Colin (Eddie Redmayne), taking her clothes off before him to swim in the Thames, and giggling under a blanket with him to try and escape her bodyguards.

"Did she break your heart? Just a little bit? Good, it needed breaking." - Emma Watson as Lucy considers her 'rival'
Everyone warns Colin that Marilyn is a heartbreaker and not to get involved – even the dowdy-by-comparison wardrobe mistress, Lucy (Emma Watson), who might have been his girlfriend before she was so dazzlingly eclipsed. Colin seems carefree and charming as he wins the affections and confidences of the delectable and delicate Marilyn, but the film is based on his diaries, so he would be made out to be a bit of a hero.

Kenneth does Larry
Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Brannagh) fares less well. Anxious despite his gravitas, he can be hectoring and bullying to hide his own lack of self-confidence. Brannagh acts this perfectly, He seems intolerant to Marilyn fears, ranting, “We’re all scared. I’ve spent half of my life in abject terror. It’s what we actors do.” He tells Marilyn to “Rely on your natural talents”, suggesting she work her sex appeal and not trouble with acting.

Marilyn persists with acting coaching from the brilliantly bristling Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) although Olivier fumes, “Trying to teach Marilyn to act is like trying to teach Urdu to a badger.” Larry doesn’t like method acting; it’s new and it frightens him. Marilyn is the future, which makes him feel threatened. When he removes his make-up before the mirror, he reveals the man beneath the actor, admitting that he wanted to feel young again by working with her, but “when I look at that magnificent face, all I see is my own inadequacy.”

Vivian Leigh (Julia Ormonde), Olivier’s wife and remarkable actress in her own right, is 40, which is too old to play on screen what she can on stage. She sweeps into rehearsals to dispense benedictions but also to check on her competition. Marilyn is 30. Hollywood demands young women, although hypocritically dominated by older men.

There is much warmth and generosity of spirit (and acting) in the film, but none more so than from the simply spectacular Dame Judi Dench. Who could possibly want a greater mentor than her or her character, Dame Sybil Thorndike? She makes excuses for the forgetful and stumbling Marilyn, always has a gentle word to ease her into the situation, and commiserates with Colin's infatuation pains. She also becomes embroiled in a stand-off between union members (over whose job it is to move a chair), which she calms by reminding us, “If the unions fall out, only the management benefits”. She is clearly on the side of us; the workers.

The ever-fabulous Dame Judi Dench as Dame Sybil Thorndike
My Week with Marilyn is a glorious film about a stunning woman, but it is also a film about films and acting, with many superb actors. The screen was eclipsing the stage and there is tension between the classical and more natural delivery, with a smattering of Shakespeare quotes throughout. A new generation of celluloid luminaries were emerging and the previous stars were losing their lustre. Acting is ephemeral and Olivier calmly accepts that “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” And what wonderful dreams they are...


nellie said...

I really enjoyed all the performances when I watched this last night. I don't often get out to the cinema (sounds ridiculous but is true) and this is one of those films I missed - it's actually one of those films I'm going to enjoy taking myself to, toute seule, when I am either well off enough not to work or have got children old enough to not need constant taxiing, homework, mentoring etc! I simply adored Judi Dench as Sybil Thorndike and thought Michelle Williams was sheer perfection. Although he physically looked nothing like Larry, Ken Branagh was terrific with a lot of the best lines. A thought did occur that Dougray Scott would make a brilliant James Stewart in a biopic, yes?

Kate Blackhurst said...

Hi Nellie,

Thanks for the comment - yes, Dougray Scott as James Stewart would certainly be interesting! I believe he played Matt Busby in a film about the Busby Babes, but I've not see it.