DIRECTED BY SIMON CURTIS
STARRING: MICHELLE WILLIAMS, EDDIE REDMAYNE, KENNETH BRANAGH, DOMINIC COOPER, JULIA ORMOND, DOUGRAY SCOTT, ZOE WANAMAKER, TOBY JONES, PHILIP JACKSON with EMMA WATSON and JUDI DENCH
You remember ‘Little Miss Sunshine,’ with Abigail Breslin and her infamous stripper routine at the end? The child is incredible; flawless with what she had been taught to do, what she thinks the crowd wants and absolutely loves her for – a crowd consisting of none but her granddad, of course. But she believes in her performance, she drowns in the illusion of it that when it’s broken, she finds herself startled. Think of the moment the song is turned off. Little Olive claps her hand to her mouth. She is thunderstruck. So many people hate her, so many people want her off the stage. Her dance is profane or so they think. She doesn’t. She finds it to be a celebration. It’s her way of having fun, it’s her way of asking the audience to have fun with her. No one cares but her family. They oblige. And that’s enough for her. She finds fulfilment. That, we find, is all she wants.
Marilyn Monroe is that child. This isn’t what I generalized from Colin Clark’s account. This is what I inferred from it. This is what I understood; this is what the dots looked like once I had connected them. It could be called beauty. It could be the film’s single biggest flaw. The misshapen creature masquerades intact and yearns to be loved behind the scenes. The film has us give it to her. All adoration, all warmth to our heart’s capacity. All the moments I could’ve thought the dots could be connected different – well, I didn’t think that. The film kept me with it. Michelle Williams did. For an hour and a half, I was Colin Clark. For an hour and a half, I wished I was.
‘My Week with Marilyn’ starts with ‘Heat Wave’ and ends with ‘That Old Black Magic.’ It begins and ends with a song in a complete circle. Nothing has changed. But something had happened. Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is a twenty three year old of impressive nobility but believes in cinema. He’s our Matthew from ‘the Dreamers.’ Marilyn (Michelle Williams) is his Isabelle. Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) is her Theo. They’re not twins, but they’re as inseparable. They’re husband and wife. I hope you get the crux of the story from these comparisons. You should’ve watched ‘the Dreamers.’ And you should watch ‘My Week with Marilyn’ as well. In both, you’ll find cinema at its romantic best.
Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) commissions Marilyn Monroe to play Elsie Marina as he takes his ‘the Prince and the Showgirl’ to the screen. It’s a role once played by his wife Vivian Leigh (Julia Ormond) on stage. Marilyn asks her why she didn’t play the role again. Vivian replies that her Larry thinks she’s too old for the role, which, she acknowledges, is the truth. Also true is the fact that she doesn’t want to lose her husband to a much younger competitor against whom she doesn’t stand a chance. She asks Colin to keep an eye on him for her. Laurence wants Colin to keep an eye on Marilyn, while Milton H. Greene (Dominic Cooper) wants him to lay off of her. He’s a business partner who, as he says, once got his tongue burnt. But young Colin is new to both. To Cinema. To Marilyn Monroe. It’s absurd for him to even consider the word ‘No.’
The film is Adrian Hodges’ adaptation of Colin Clark’s memoir ‘the Prince, the Showgirl and Me.’ It’s what he recounts of his days as Third Assistant to Olivier. “It was a dream come true,” he says. “And my only talent was to not close my eyes.” The film is an old man’s fond recollection of youth, of days chronicled by the youngster as they passed by. It’s a memoir not written but lived. There are two scenes in the very beginning where Colin is ordered to bring Ms. Monroe from her dressing room to the sets as it had become her custom to delay. On one occasion, he catches her without her makeup on. On the other, it’s her clothes. Much later in the film, the two of them go skinny-dipping in broad daylight where Marilyn, yet again, takes her clothes off in front of him. “It’s nothing you haven’t seen before,” she says. He knows that. Not many people have seen her that way. Even lesser would actually write about it. He knows that as well.
It’s incredible how beautiful their story is in spite of the scandal it could brew. But would it cause any at all? In one scene in Colin’s omnipresence, he catches her in the middle of the night with a sheaf of Miller’s notes clutched to her chest, notes which we come to know are about her in a way she doesn’t approve of. Marilyn turns tearful when confronted; dizzy with further intimidation. She doesn’t like what Olivier does. She doesn’t like how Miller treats her either. But she approves of Colin. Would she then approve of his work, by which I mean this memoir? Absolutely, I would think. She asks him not to forget her. This is his way of showing he never has; that he never will. Not all truth is scandalous. Not all scandal is treachery. Neither are all who are treacherous cold-heartedly so. Not Marilyn. Not Colin, to wardrobe-girl Lucy (Emma Watson), even when he proves her right.
Michelle Williams is a bad impersonator but a great actress. She plays a template, not the person. She’s Marilyn Monroe off the sets of ‘the Prince and the Showgirl.’ On it, she’s Michelle Williams playing Marilyn playing Elsie Marina. A lot has been lost in the reworking that it looks better only through Colin’s eyes. I haven’t watched ‘the Prince and the Showgirl.’ I can’t imagine what one who has watched it would think of it after this film. Colin, that way, acts against his own suggestion of showing those clippings which worked than the ones which didn’t. But then he submits to us a different Marilyn – the one he saw. The more likeable version. Ms. Williams, if you remember, tap-danced to Ryan Gosling in ‘Blue Valentine.’ She tap-dances here too. And she winks. That’s another weapon she adds to the list. And that's not all.
Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier dazzles with wit than rendition. In some scenes, I thought, he drowns in a quest for self-importance. Those have been carefully written into character and context. The others, he has Colin to counsel. This is only the second time that I watch Branagh. The first was, of course, Gilderoy Lockhart in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.’ He was aptly cast in both, I felt, in attention-seeking characters. I’ve no complaints whatsoever. Judi Dench, again, is perfectly at home playing Sybil Thorndike, a veteran actor in the production; eagle-eyed with a golden heart. There are two films, two stereotypes of characters that I associate her with. One is ‘M.’ The other is the Queen in ‘Shakespeare in Love.’ Here we have a delightful case of the latter. Dominic Cooper and Toby Jones are excusably cast, but I thought Emma Watson stretched it. She’s an important actress in an unimportant character. I found a case of bigger name against a stronger performance. A step-down on the faith ladder for me.
Colin cannot get over Marilyn Monroe. Milton discourages him to the best of his ability. Miller, on his part, needed to flee the country to gain composure. They have three different dimensions to the misshapen creature she is. The lover, the victim and the chosen protector. The presence of the other two makes me want to hear their side of the story. But like I always say, that’s another movie. This one is the lover’s take on their honeymoon. It’s simple. It’s sweet. It’s blind faith, you’ll observe. And in the end you’d find yourself asking for more.