‘Pearls’ from Marilyn:
‘A sex symbol becomes a thing. I just hate to be a thing.’
‘Hollywood is a place where they’ll pay you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.’
‘What do I wear in bed? Why Chanel No. 5, of course.’
Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962)
Another week, another movie. I’ve had more big screen cinematic experiences in the first five weeks of 2102 than in the previous five years. Move over Mark Kermode and Claudia Winkleman – I’ll be presenting ‘Film Night’ before you know it!
This week it was ‘Elevenses’ at ‘The Roses’. Well actually it was coffee at ‘Costa’, to save the embarrassment of free refreshments with the Tewkesbury ‘seniors’, followed by a matinée with Marilyn Monroe. Well Michelle Williams, actually, the Golden Globe winning, Oscar nominated actress who plays the title role in the Simon Curtis directed film, ‘My Week with Marilyn’.
From her first seductive shimmy, ‘starting a heat wave…’, alongside the opening titles, until she weaves ‘that old black magic , through the closing credits, Michelle Williams is utterly spell binding , in a performance that totally embodies the legendary sex symbol and Hollywood icon, that was Marilyn – right down to the last ‘boo-boo-be-do.’
However this is far more than a good impersonation. Sure, she dons a platinum blonde wig, paints on vermillion ‘lippy’ and adopts the breathy voice. The walk, the wiggle and the wink, are all there. But beyond the superficial window dressing there is much more. This is an empathetic portrayal, that delves behind the glamorous on-screen persona of ‘Marilyn’, projecting light on the demons that haunted the off-screen ‘Norma Jeane’.
In front of the camera, Marilyn Monroe may have successfully cultivated a dumb blonde image, but she was anything but. Williams successfully presents a complex character with a chameleon nature, the private person behind the public property.
We meet a needy Marilyn, at different turns, childlike and flirtatious, girlish and sensual, vulnerable and vivacious, manipulative and manipulated, addicted and addictive, self-doubting and misunderstood.
‘My Week with Marilyn’ is a true story. ‘True’ in so much as it is based on two sets of memoirs, published in 1995 and 2000, by film director Colin Clark (1932-2002). But how much embellishment he lent, in later life, to the fleeting relationship, in 1956, of a lowly 3rd director with a Hollywood superstar, I guess we will never truly know.
Old Etonian, Clark, was the son of celebrated art historian, Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), and younger brother to Tory MP, Alan Clark (1928-1999), who also had a penchant for keeping candid diaries, about political life under Mrs Thatcher.
As as 23-year-old Oxford graduate, desperate to get into the production side of movies, Clark lands a first job, through family connections, with Sir Laurence Olivier (1907-1989), on the Pinewood Studios set of ‘The Prince and the Show Girl’.
Not surprisingly, Kenneth Branagh is an excellent Lord Olivier – renowned classical actor, insensitive, superior, and with grand designs on becoming a Hollywood star. ‘Larry’ is both director and male lead opposite Marilyn who, although every bit the Hollywood star, is fearful of her acting ability, in such revered company.
Marilyn, 30 years of age, newly wed to her third husband, ‘Death of a Salesman’ playwright, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott), arrives with an entourage, including personal acting consultant, Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker – wearing a pair of spectacles as big as dustbin lids).
Olivier and Marilyn, disparate talents from different worlds, are a combination doomed from the outset. An overly rigid Olivier, beguiled by Marilyn’s beauty, envious of her natural charisma, but scornful of the method acting style, becomes increasingly frustrated with her unreliability.
The first cracks are already beginning to appear in Marilyn’s marriage to Miller, who beats a hasty retreat to New York, for a break. Becoming increasingly isolated, and prophetically dependent on a cocktail of sleeping pills, Marilyn seeks out support from an unlikely source – the wide-eyed ‘go-fer’ Clark.
They spend an idyllic couple of days, visiting Windsor Castle and Eton, and there’s even time for a spot of playful skinny dipping in the Thames – which may or may not have been wishful thinking on behalf of Clark the author!
Eddie Redmayne, who recently starred as Stephen Wraysford in the BBC adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’ First World War novel, ‘Birdsong’, is very well cast as the starry-eyed and infatuated Clark – living everyman’s dream!
With the film, finally in the can, Clark and Marilyn inevitably go their separate ways – he with a slightly broken heart and she set to break a few more.
It is a somewhat thin storyline, but never the less a well-crafted film, steeped in 1950’s nostalgia, and extremely easy on the eye – the perfect backdrop for a mesmerising Michelle Williams. A less enigmatic ‘Marilyn’ would surely have consigned this movie to the critically unacclaimed heap already inhabited by ‘The Prince and the Showgirl’.
This film is further enhanced by a host of quality cameo performances, including Dame Judi Dench as actress Dame Thorndike, Sir Derek Jacobi as Sir Owen Morshead – royal librarian at Windsor Castle – and Emma Watson as wardrobe assistant, Lucy.