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.
“We’re all scared! I spent half my professional life in abject, bloody terror! It’s what actors do!”
I never saw Marilyn Monroe on the big screen. She was gone long before I was even a twinkle in my father’s eye. She died 13 years before I was born. And yet, even today, her legacy and impact on the world has lessened only marginally. When people talk about movie stars, they might mention today’s fad-of-the-week, but those aren’t true stars. They don’t light up the screen like it’s on fire and make you feel scared and excited and loved and confused and sad all at the same time. Only those of Marilyn’s caliber could do that, and they are, sadly, gone with her, for the most part.
In My Week with Marilyn, she embodies everything I think of Marilyn as: mainly the scared, beautiful and talented woman who couldn’t stand to be alone and who was tormented by not only inner demons but those she surrounded herself with as well. William’s portrayal is dead-on, down to the trademark laugh, body movements and other fine details. I remember seeing the trailer for the movie and thinking, “Wow, movie restoration has really come a long way!” She’s so good, I didn’t even recognize her as Michelle Williams. I just thought it was Marilyn. That is how good Williams is in this role.
Another favorite actor of mine, Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie, et al), portrays Sir Laurence Olivier in the film, directing (and starring with) Marilyn in the film The Prince and the Showgirl. Branagh, as usual, gives a stunning performance. Again, never having seen Sir Laurence on screen or stage, I have no frame of reference for my comparison to the man himself, but I can only imagine that he’d be proud of Branagh.
I could feel the frustration Olivier must have felt at Monroe’s constant inability to arrive on set on time (due to her near-paralyzing stage fright) and other difficult behaviors. Branagh brings alive the relationship between Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh, played by the beautiful Julia Ormond (star of one of my favorite films, Sabrina, alongside Harrison Ford and Greg Kinnear), as well as the tension caused by Olivier’s clear lusting over the young superstar that he knows he can never have.
“I’m 43, darling. No one will love me for very much longer, not even you.” – Julia Ormond as Vivien Leigh
And let’s not forget the man who made this true story possible: Colin Clark, played by relative newcomer Eddie Redmayne. With that hint of innocence and protectiveness that would appeal to Marilyn, he manages to show her that there are people in the world who don’t just want to use her. And though of course he falls in love with her – how could you not, really? – and he loves her for the person behind the facade, rather than the movie star, and this draws Marilyn to him.
Their week together must have been memorable, to say the least. I look forward to seeing Redmayne’s future work, if this is the quality he brings to the profession. I believed every moment of his performance, and wanted, more than a little, to be in his shoes, even if it was Michelle Williams and not the actual Marilyn Monroe.
Rounding out the star-studded cast are such gems as Judi Dench (my favorite “M” and in one of my other favorite movies, Chocolat), Toby Jones (The Hunger Games, Captain America: The First Avenger), Emma Watson (really showing her abilities out from under the shadow and hair of Hermione Granger), Dougray Scott and Zoë Wanamaker (who will for me forever be Cassandra from Doctor Who). Dench in particular does a fantastic job as Dame Sybil Thorndike, an accomplished actress in her own right.
My Week with Marilyn was an easy four stars for me, and nearly five. There were a few parts where I felt the movie dragged a bit, and occasionally it focused too much on Marilyn’s foibles. Although I did finish the movie feeling very, very sad for Ms. Norma Jean Baker, knowing a bit more about what she had gone through.
I don’t remember who said it, but someone once said that Marilyn’s power was in making you want to keep her safe and protect her, not necessarily her sexuality, although there was plenty of that. I have to agree. She seemed at one and the same time to be so powerful and yet so frail. I wish we could have seen the star she would’ve become. The world would be just a bit brighter for that, I’m sure.
“Trying to teach Marilyn how to act is like teaching Urdu to a badger!”
“Remember, boy, when it comes to women, you’re never too old for humiliation.”
“Maybe you were just looking for the right man.”
“They all look right at the start.”
“We’ll never look at each other again.”
“Maybe just a wink? Once in a while?”
“Did she break your heart?”
“Good. It needed breaking.”