Sunday 18 February 2018

Review: My Week with Marilyn

Rating: * * *
(15A, limited release)

Paul Whitington

Directed by Simon Curtis and adapted by Adrian Hodges, My Week with Marilyn could hardly have been blessed with a juicier plot.

It's based on the memoirs of the late Colin Clark, and the legendary confrontation between Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe that occurred during the making of the 1956 romantic comedy, The Prince and the Showgirl.

Clark was a lowly gofer on that ill-fated set, and experienced at firsthand the clash of cultures between a stiff and stage-trained classical actor and a neurotic, instinctive Hollywood princess.

Olivier was hoping that the proximity of Monroe's blinding glamour would revive his faltering film career: Marilyn thought that working with Olivier would make the critics finally take her seriously as an actress. Neither got their wish, but the battle of wills between them fascinated their young third assistant director.

Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is at a loose end when his well-connected father pulls a few strings and gets him a lowly post in Olivier's production company. It's 1956, and London is abuzz about the imminent arrival of Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams) and her new husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott).

At this point Marilyn was perhaps the biggest film star in the world, and Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) has high hopes for The Prince and the Showgirl, a film in which he will co-star and direct.

His optimism begins to dissipate, however, once the shoot gets underway. Monroe has arrived with her method-acting coach, Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) who soon becomes a disruptive influence on set.

To compound things, Olivier's clipped and icy manner makes Marilyn nervous, and her confidence -- and timekeeping -- begin to suffer.

When her husband disappears back to New York, Marilyn takes comfort in the company of Clark, and the two disappear from the unhappy set for a tantalisingly intimate rural jaunt.

The dramatic potential of all this is obvious, but it is largely squandered by director Simon Curtis, most of whose experience has tellingly been garnered on television.

My Week with Marilyn looks and feels like a made-for-TV potboiler, is static and stiff and badly written and visually unremarkable. However, it's also very entertaining, and that's mainly down to some very fine acting.

Redmayne is charming as the wide-eyed Colin Clark, and Judi Dench is imperious as Dame Sybil Thorndike, the legendary actress who becomes Marilyn's unlikely ally.

Sometimes Branagh almost seems to overdo the clipped Olivier speech pattern, but then so did the real Olivier and overall Branagh gets him off to a tee.

As for Williams, she's simply extraordinary as Marilyn, and manages to evoke both her private insecurities and intoxicating public charisma.

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