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My Week with Marilyn

Clare F Hobba

Directed by Simon Curtis
Certificate tbc, 99mins


In 1956, at the height of his creative powers, Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) invited Marilyn Monroe (Michele Williams) over to England to star in the film subsequently titled The Prince And The Showgirl. He had decided that his own wife Vivian Leigh (Julia Ormond) was too old for the lead role and wanted a younger actress. But the English stage-trained actor-director was to find his Method-schooled star difficult. Recently married to the playwright Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and deeply insecure, she would turn up late on set, be unable to play a scene until she found the character's motivation via an unheard of number of takes, then would consume pills and booze off set.

Enter young Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) who had horrified his rich family by entering the film business as a Third Assistant Director, i.e. the director's dogsbody. It falls to Colin to fetch difficult actors when they don't show up - and he's soon the one person besides her personal Method advisor Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker) Monroe trusts. Warned that she consumes men to whom she's attracted, the innocent Colin must strike the difficult balance between being a friend (and more) to her, maintaining his own personal integrity and getting the film made.

Movies about the movie business are not new: this one is grounded in historical incident (Clark published his diary account of what happened to him and Marilyn during production) and while undoubtedly a mix of fact and fiction, it touches on compelling issues. There's a widespread fascination with how movies get made, a deeper one with how one person becomes a star. Does something mark them out as special? Certainly, if you watch Monroe in any of her films, she has something. Here, brilliantly played by Williams, she's both a star and a fragile creature in constant need of praise and reassurance who may or may not be unaware of her effect on men, such as when Colin suddenly realises she's removing her clothes in his presence to swim in a river. Is she a victim or a manipulator, a girl out of her depth or a woman playing a game - or all of the above? It's all very charming and engaging, yet the issues lurking beneath the surface are very real.

Emma Watson (from the Harry Potter films) gets a bit part as costume department girl with whom Colin has a faltering romance until she realises he's enamoured of Marilyn and dumps him. This is important. Colin and Lucy are ordinary, everyday people; Marilyn is a star and appears to live and move on an altogether higher plane, an icon of the screen, a goddess. Such is her allure. And yet, somewhere in there, she too is an ordinary person: as she puts it to Colin, when people find out she's not Marilyn Monroe, they lose interest. The phrase 'cash cow' comes up a few times. Immediately after The Prince And The Showgirl, Monroe would become immortalised in Some Like It Hot. By the early sixties, she was dead from a drugs overdose. My Week With Marilyn conjures a fascinating glimpse inside her head some while before she got there.

Jeremy Clarke

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