Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Patsy's Review of My Week with Marilyn

by Patsy Morgan

As Cait mentions in her previous review, biography films are difficult to pull off. My Week With Marilyn, however, seems to rise to the challenge. Perhaps the difference is that it is an autobiographical story, which allows the audience to make more than a few concessions. The origins of this film had me pondering for many hours as to how the story, in its final presentation, came to be. On the surface, it's based on the experience of Colin Clark when he worked on the film, The Prince and the Showgirl, with Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe. One can forgive any biases presented; any aspects of the characters that seem to be skewed, when taking into account the story is being told as seen through the eyes of a 23 year old film school graduate, working on his first major motion picture. But then, I pondered further. This story is more than just that as seen through the eyes of a 23 year old male at his first job. How much do you remember about your first job? Of course, you'd remember much more if it was working with Marilyn Monroe! And you kept a diary. I was cynical about the diary a little bit. I would imagine that in the years between his journaling and the publishing of the two journals this film is based on, Mr. Clark did a bit of polishing and editing. So, it's safe to assume that this story, in final presentation, is told through the eyes of a 23 year old film school graduate, as he recollected from his journals, published much later. Are you still with me? All that to explain why I find this film to be believable, more so than other films about real people. I was able to buy into it. It must also be much easier to account for a week of someone's life, rather than their entire life. The audience was allowed to bring their own preconceived ideas about the characters into the story. And there are a lot of preconceived notions about Marilyn Monroe.

The portrayals in this film were extremely well done. The challenge of portraying an historical figure must be the ultimate in an actor's career. I find it always takes a while for me, as an audience member, to buy into the character actually being the person they are conveying on the screen. When Michelle Williams first appears as Marilyn, I don't buy it. She just looks like another impersonator, in a long line of impersonators. By the time her character lands in England, however, she had me hooked. Williams did an excellent job of showing a very human side to Marilyn. Unlike others who attempt to capture the ever elusive 'Marilyn Mystique', Williams showed a naive, vulnerable, most-likely clinically depressed woman in a world strange to her, yet captivated by her. It seemed to be the most accurate portrayal of Marilyn Monroe that I, personally, have seen. A pivotal moment in the film was when Clark is summoned in the middle of the night to comfort a distraught Marilyn. He asks her to give up the persona of Marilyn Monroe, promising her a wonderful, protected life - as I'm sure Marilyn had been promised by many knights' in shining armour! With just an expression, flashing across her face, Williams responds with such a deep, clear inner-conflict. Marilyn needs to have people save her, yet she does not want to stop being Marilyn.

It was great to see Kenneth Branagh on the big screen again. He was an excellent choice for Laurence Olivier. His response to the American icon displayed not only a conflict between stage and film acting, but also, I imagine a conflict between British and American culture. I would also dare to say that a clash existed among the two actors' 'stations'. Olivier is, essentially, British royalty. Knighted a 'Sir', cultured, intellectual, elitist. Seemingly born into his upper-crust station in life. Marilyn, in opposition, rose to her status from extremely humble beginnings. Her inner struggle to keep her footing in this new, upper class, is clearly misunderstood by those who are already there. It doesn't take long for the two personalities to conflict with one another.  Marilyn, in her fragile, paranoia decided that Olivier is 'the enemy', indicating that even when Olivier is smiling at her, he's hating her with his eyes. Branagh presents an Olivier that doesn't hate Marilyn, but one that is highly critical of her. There is little room to blame him, really. In an era when mental illness and anxiety were not tolerated very much, if at all –  and understood even less – Marilyn's behaviour would/could not have been anything other than a mark against her. Her chronic lateness to the set, her inability to learn her lines, would have infuriated any director.

Dame Sybil Thorndike, played by Judi Dench, seemed to be the only actor on the set to show Marilyn sympathy. Perhaps she was sensitive to the scared little girl she saw in Marilyn. Even Arthur Miller was so emotionally drained by his new wife that he fled back to the states to get away from her. Colin Clark seems to have a perception well beyond his years in conveying the magnetic attractiveness, yet repellent neediness of Marilyn. Her ability to captivate men; to awaken their desire to rescue her; to cause jealousy in their wives and girlfriends, and end up being way too much to bear, was not lost on this 23 year old man. However aware Clark was of this dynamic, as Olivier warned him was part of her manipulation, he fell for it. Just as many men before him fell for her.

All-in-all, I give this film two thumbs up. I would and, most likely will, see it again and again. I could continue rambling on about it here, as I acknowledge I haven't covered all of the aspects of it that have remained in my noodle. My pondering it over continues. How clever of them to bring this story to the theatres just as we're entering the 50th anniversary of Marilyn's death. A good story leaves its audience wanting more. I was definitely left wanting to know more about all of the real-life people portrayed. Especially Marilyn, as I too, have been struck by the powerful mystique that made her a legend.

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