Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Tuesday's Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film: MY WEEK WITH MARILYN starring Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh

It's Tuesday and as usual, my Forgotten (or Overlooked) Film post is late in the day. This is the weekly meme hosted by Todd Mason at his blog, Sweet Freedom. So don't forget to head on over there for the list of other participants who are/were not as tardy as yours truly.

Though my choice of film for today is pretty recent (2011) and Michelle Williams was nominated for an Oscar for her wonderful performance, I still get an 'overlooked vibe' when I think of it.

I like Marilyn Monroe. I didn't love her. I think I understand what drove her to her death - maybe. It's a shame, but something that was bound to happen. Later I felt sorry for her but wish she'd been stronger and more inclined to stand up for herself. But maybe (or obviously) she just wasn't wired that way.

I was a kid when she died. I remember the day. My dad and I were going somewhere on a bus. I think it was some sort of country excursion with family friends. At any rate, we'd heard the news of MM's death, everyone was talking about it - the day stands out in my mind because I so rarely went anywhere with my father. He was not really the 'excursion' sort. So the two events are linked in my mind. (I have a great picture to remind me of the day, anyway.)

I was a little hesitant to watch MY WEEK WITH MARILYN, thinking it would not be my cup of tea. But I'd read that Michelle Williams 'got' the essential Marilyn, so I ordered it up on Netflix.

I'm glad I did.

It's not a great film, far from it. The whole thing has an air of detachment which I imagine is the director's fault. But the acting is superb.

Kenneth Branagh as Lawrence Olivier is brilliant. As infrequently as the film 'comes alive' - it's most always in the scenes with Branagh. He doesn't look like Olivier yet he manages to embody him - which is more important.

Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe is almost as good. In the screenplay, she is in London in 1956 to star with Olivier in THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL, a minor movie (don't think I ever saw it) set in 1911 on the eve of the coronation of George V. (Monroe's next movie would be the ultra-wonderful SOME LIKE IT HOT.)

Eddie Redmayne as Colin Clark, the son of British art historian Sir Kenneth Clark.

The film is based on a book by Colin Clark, at the time a sort of eager, impressionable dogsbody (third assistant director) for Olivier's production company. He is played in the film, smartly and un-objectionably, by Eddie Redmayne. Because of his obvious star-struck sympathetic nature, his naivete, he easily becomes the someone Monroe turns to when she can't handle the pressure of working with Olivier.

Even if Clark exaggerates the relationship,  it still makes for a good story. Marilyn is shown to be a very talented but troubled young woman who travels with her own acting coach and entourage who apparently think nothing of giving her drugs to keep her contained. (At least in this movie.)

Monroe appears intimidated by everything on the set, most especially Olivier and Dame Sybil Thorndyke (played quite splendidly by Judy Dench in a very small role). She has to be told over and over again that she is, indeed, talented - her self-esteem needs major overhauling on a daily basis. Apparently she was a very needy person, obsessively so.

It's this neediness that ruins her short-lived marriage to playwright Arthur Miller (played very well by Dougray Scott) who ups and leaves during the middle of filming, claiming he can't work, can't think. Monroe wants him to solve all her problems - an impossible task.

Actually, in this pix, Branagh sort of looks like Olivier.

Branagh recognizes just how talented Monroe is (everyone does, really - except MM herself) but he is enormously frustrated by the constant delays in filming. He is a professional actor and can't quite understand the rudiments of 'method acting' as Marilyn insists on finding the 'center' of her character before she can work. "Can't you just be sexy?" he asks her, mid-tirade. This, of course, sends her running back to her dressing room.

Michelle Williams portrays Marilyn as a wounded bird who is incapable of self-healing. But I never got the sense that she 'was' Monroe, that she wasn't just a wonderful actress playing Monroe. (Though in the end she gives a sultry,very-Monroe-like, knock-out performance of the song, That Old Black Magic.)

Monroe's inability to function without having her ego, her sense of self, 'massaged' grows old very quickly. In order for her to walk on set for even a few moments of filming, she must calm her fears (which were obviously quite real to her), deal with her own personal demons, then be led almost blindly on set to perform magic on film.

If this portrayal is anywhere near accurate, Monroe was too damaged a human being to handle what fame brought her. In some obtuse way, she thrived on the hullabaloo. Though she poses prettily enough for her public when she needs to, one wonders just how much of it was allowed to touch her - IF it touched her at all. If she fed on public adulation, it wasn't a very nourishing diet.

In the end of the film, Olivier sums up Marilyn as 'desperately unhappy'. But I was left wondering what it was that had made her so, wishing I didn't feel so annoyed by her behavior. Honestly, I felt for Olivier.

The film has many well-known  actors with very little to do so they must make the most of their limited screen time (and they do). Besides Judy Dench, there's Zoe Wanamaker, Toby Jones, the wonderful Michael Kitchen, Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh, Philip Jackson and Emma Watson.

(An aside: Watson really is an uninteresting screen presence. But for HARRY POTTER, I wonder where she'd be. Just a thought. Maybe I'll see her in something else and she'll change my mind.)

Link to trailer.

All the photos used in this post were culled from various online sources. They are meant strictly for entertainment and/or educational purposes. No copyright infringement is intended.


  1. The whole for me is the young man. I never got interested in him at all. Williams and Branaugh were fine.

  2. Vry interesting review. I may see this, just to see Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branaugh, and the other actors.

    I was a teenager when Marilyn Monroe died, yet knew enough about her to like her, but was puzzled about her death. Now, of course, I understand more.

    She was fragile; life was too difficult for her, personally and professionally.

    In my family, she was referred to favorably and that was my impression of her always, still is.

  3. Never caught up with this one (which is why god in her wisdom created DVD) but I do like Williams and Branagh is always good value. Does he really have a prosthetic dimpled chin? Bizarre but as ou say, they don't obviously look alike otherwise ...

  4. Yvette, I haven't seen a single Marilyn Monroe film till date. Your fair assessment of Monroe as she was in real life could have been one of the main reasons that put me off her films early on. But then, I wasn't exposed to her films as much as I was to those of her contemporaries like Vivien Leigh, Audrey Hepburn or Elizabeth Taylor. I can think of just three of her films off the top of my head—"Niagara," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and "The Seven Year Itch"— and no more. If I do watch this one, it would be for Kenneth Branagh and some of the other fine cast, notably Dench and Ormond. Thanks very much for reviewing the film: I didn't even know there was a film called "My Week With Marilyn"!

  5. Patti: I didn't think he was bad at all. I liked him. I loved Kenneth Branagh. But then, I usually do.

  6. Kathy: I liked that she managed, despite her fears and demons to leave behind several wonderful screen performances.

    Yes, she was very fragile. Too fragile for that crowd of vultures who gathered around her, especially later in life.

  7. Sergio, he doesn't look much like Olivier, but that's okay. He has the personality and in the movie within a movie scenes still manages, somehow to look like Olivier on film. Maybe it's the prosthetic chin? If so, I didn't notice it. :)

  8. Prashant: the main Monroe film I'd recommend is SOME LIKE IT HOT. I think you would enjoy that very much.

    GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES is wonderful too.

    I think you would like this film. Kenneth Branagh and Judy Dench are especially wonderful. Though Michelle Williams makes for a very good wounded Marilyn.

  9. Yes, Some Like it Hot is a must-see. It's a classic.

    Hilarious all-around.

    I don't remember seeing Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, but have seen Some Like it Hot many times over the years.

  10. Yvette, There is one scene in "My Week with Marilyn" in which I thought Michelle Williams nailed MM - the moment when the young man encounters her late at night and she is in great distress. But it is just a moment. And that is all any actress could hope for. It's an impossible role - Marilyn has become a monumental icon, her legend having only grown since her death - and her movies are on TV often and easily available otherwise. I have to give Michelle Williams kudos for having the courage to attempt it.

    I was alive, too, when Marilyn died and, like you, remember where I was, who I was with and what were we doing at the time. It was such a shock - although I later learned that her death didn't surprise anyone who knew her well.

    For me, her two must-see films are "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" (Howard Hawks) and "Some Like it Hot" (Billy Wilder).

  11. Kathy: Agreed. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is more cute than classic, but I enjoyed MM's pairing with Jane Russell. I'm a Russell fan.

  12. Eve, yes, I think I know the scene you mean. I, too, give her a great deal of credit for trying something this difficult and so, apparently, outside her own character. I think she is one of our best actors.

    I think I'm going to line up GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES on my Netflix queue. Suddenly I feel like watching it. I just wish they'd paired her with better looking men. :)

  13. Michelle Williams ia an excellent actor.

    Given Marilyn Monroe's fragility, I wonder how Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio treated her.

    I think that DiMaggio sent flowers regularly to be put on her grave, shows he cared.

  14. Here is an interesting article about Arthur Miller's marriage to Marilyn Monroe.


  15. I just saw this movie, and agree that Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branaugh and Judy Dench are excellent.

    It was a bit boring, to tell the truth, but the cast is so good, I was riveted.

    Marilyn Monroe's life was so tragic, and she, so wounded. She says in the film that her mother was sent to an asylum, and she lived in different homes. She talked about girls needing mothers who loved them. So that perhaps was her problem, did not have a secure upbringing to give her security and self-esteem.


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