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My Week with Marilyn (Simon Curtis, 2011)

January 6, 2012

Originally written for Reel Time, now at Sound on Sight

My Week with Marilyn’s key strength, and obvious biggest point of interest for most viewers, is Michelle Williams’ turn as Monroe. Williams excels at portraying various facets of Monroe’s star image omnipresent in pop culture, but the quality of the performance extends beyond simple mimicry into a richer portrayal of Norma Jeane’s psyche, albeit one admittedly a reflection of the diary of Colin Clark that the film is adapted from. Williams loses herself completely in the role, both inhabiting the icon and avoiding one-dimensional caricature. This overshadows the rest of the film, however, which is unfortunately full of the one-note.

Kenneth Branagh’s turn as Laurence Olivier aside, the rest of the quite distinguished British cast is reduced to cameos and caricatures. Actors including Julia Ormond, Judi Dench, Dougray Scott, Toby Jones and Derek Jacobi, some playing the likes of Vivien Leigh and Arthur Miller, either vanish after one scene or are sidelined considerably in favour of the fleeting central romance between Monroe and Clark. This is understandable considering the film is adapted from Clark’s diary, but it would certainly be more forgivable if Clark, here played by Eddie Redmayne, wasn’t given such a one-note depiction himself. Stuck perpetually in adoration mode, Clark even refers to Marilyn as like “a Greek goddess” to her face, despite her fragile state regarding her image having been made very clear at this stage of their relationship. The opening sequence, plagued by a quite irritating montage approach that doesn’t let up much during the film’s first half or so, rushes as fast as possible through Clark’s introduction to get to Monroe, Olivier and the production of The Prince and the Showgirl; the filmmakers don’t even seem interested in the story’s actual protagonist.

Regarding the one dimensional, the screenplay is also very much prone to stating the obvious in its dialogue, and characters like the thankless one Emma Watson portrays, as real as they may or may not have been in relation to the real life production, ultimately provide nothing substantial; too much of the film feels superfluous. My Week with Marilyn, as a whole, doesn’t really provide much beyond the superficial either, outside of Michelle Williams’ performance which truly is worthy of praise, as is Branagh’s lesser but still fine turn. As it stands, it feels representative, both content-wise and visually, of some of television’s one-off period drama work associated with the parents of its production company BBC Films: a reasonably entertaining if hollow distraction. The film does have some charm and a lot of funny moments, but it would have been a far more satisfying work if those surrounding Marilyn had a more rounded, interesting depiction themselves.

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