We need to talk about Marilyn. No, not the person. The film. And why I just spent a week with her. Actually, that question isn’t really so hard to answer. I was bored and wanted something to do with my girlfriend after work. Another pretty easy question to answer is ‘is it any good?’ because the answer is simple. Yes it is good and if you get the chance you probably should watch it. But if that’s all you really want to know there are probably about fifty reviews out there that could tell you that. I want to approach the subject different. I want to consider whether knowing anything about Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe and the film within the film, The Prince and the Showgirl, makes the film better or not.
This may surprise some of you, or not because you can’t really be expected to know of my knowledge of cinema history off hand, but I’ve never actually see a Marilyn Monroe film. Oh, I know who she is and I’ve seen the pictures but I have never actually seen one of her films. Same applies to Laurence Olivier with the exception of having seen some of his stage works due to having studied Shakespeare during my undergraduate studies. I’ve never seen The Prince and the Showgirl and, until I watched My Week with Marilyn, I had no idea that there were ever any issues during production between the two. So basically I went into the movie knowing it was about some guy who spends a week with Marilyn Monroe but I had no idea why or for what purpose.
It says something for the film though that I went in not knowing those details and I was still hooked. The reason for the week is explained fairly quickly. They are there to shoot the film. The main character, the third assistant director (though where the other two are I have no idea) becomes a trusted friend of the American star but circumstance conspires that the two cannot be together. After the week of filming they must part ways. In its simplest that is what this story boils down to. Had the story been completely fiction, without the big names of Marilyn Monroe and Laurence Olivier, perhaps it wouldn’t have held the same potency. Yet, it feels partly fictionalised already. Colin Clark is a real person and all of the events were described in his memoirs. Aside from this one source, there is nothing to say the relationship happened at all.
Colin Clark has no reason to lie though, but for some reason the film just seems fictionalised. Perhaps it’s a problem that comes with the territory. Maybe in being filmed, even real life events have to be distorted slightly in order to make a good film. The camera angles and the lighting were all superb in the film but they might not always be so in real life. Or perhaps it was a conscious decision on the part of director Simon Curtis to create a little bit of ambiguity over the events. Neither Marilyn Monroe nor Laurence Olivier have ever mentioned the presence of a relationship on set, a fact I’ve learned whilst reading up after watching the film. Going into the film, I had no idea that Colin Clark or the creative differences of Olivier and Paula Strasberg had actually happened. Of course, the ‘based on a true story’ title card flashed up at a beginning but no one takes those seriously anymore.
So it’s interesting to go into a film involving real life characters that I know nothing about and come out the other side still completely enraptured. Kenneth Branagh puts in a great performance as Sir Laurence Olivier and his accent, in the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl, impeccable. None of the performances however can touch Michelle Williams’ portrayal of Marilyn Monroe. She completely looked the part and, though I’ve never seen any of Monroe’s films, she brought the character to life. Her ability in the role to display a powerful talent, on one hand, and a deeply flawed, self depreciating human being, on the other, is one of the main reasons to go see this film. There were times while watching that I would think to myself ‘that’s Jen from Dawson’s Creek’, but it was in the way you would notice an actor and be distracted by remembering their previous performances. I was just simply surprised, because this is worlds apart from her performance in Dawson’s Creek. If anything, what we can gleam from this film is that Michelle Williams is a extremely talented young actress (she’s only 31) who I hope gets all the recognition that she deserves.
Achieving that recognition, however, will incur some stiff competition from other films which are coming out soon. It should, without a doubt, get Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress (for Williams) and Best Supporting Actor (for Branagh). Williams was nominated last year for Blue Valentine but lost out to Natalie Portman for her performance in Black Swan, and rightfully so. But she’s back again and she’s upped her performance. It’s generally understood that the Academy likes to give out awards to actors who have been nominated but never won, so Williams possibly stands a good chance this year if nominated. Her competition will come from The Iron Lady. I don’t mean that Margret Thatcher is literally going to show up and wrestle her for the award, but rather that Meryl Streep’s portrayal of the Prime Minister in the upcoming film is likely to be nominated too. I haven’t seen the film but she certainly looks the part. She holds the most nominations in the Academy Awards but unlike Williams, she’s also won (she won Best Actress for Sophie’s Choice). If the Academy wants to diversify they’ll probably go with Williams but if they want to recognise an older, consistent talent, they’ll give Streep the nod.
That’s not to say that awards are everything. Plenty of people haven’t awarded by the Academy. Directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick have never been recognised. Actress Glen Close hasn’t won anything and Johnny Depp is waiting on his Oscar. And it’s not as though Oscars are the only awards out there, since there are also the BAFTAs and Golden Globe awards. Not to mention that the Oscar ceremony isn’t until February, so it’s probably a little early to be thinking of who wins what. Regardless of whether it wins any awards I would still recommend that you see My Week with Marilyn.
Incidentally, back when I wrote my blog about nothing good being on in the cinema and what was coming out in the upcoming months, I didn’t mention My Week with Marilyn. I genuinely didn’t even know this was out until a week or so ago. But I’m glad I did notice it. It’s a nice little film with a simple plot that doesn’t really try to be deeper than it needs to be. There are perhaps aspects of Marilyn’s life that are alluded to or foreshadowed but it never comes across as being pretentious. Whether I knew any of the history before I went in really didn’t matter. It was just a rather straightforward film about one guy who spends a week with Marilyn Monroe. That’s all I really wanted.