I went into My Week with Marilyn with very little knowledge about the source material. I know very little about Marilyn Monroe aside from what I have seen depicted in other films, and shows. And what little I have read or heard about her over the years. I have never seen any other her films, and have seen very little actual archival footage or interviews. I was walking into a learning experience, something I often like to do. Watching a biographical film on a topic I know very little about can be very entertaining and enlightening. This was a little different, this is not a biographical telling of the life of a tragic screen goddess, it’s a story of a young man’s brief brush with greatness, a week that would change his life forever.
My Week with Marilyn is based originally on a journal kept by a young 3rd assistant director who worked on the Sir Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) production “The Prince and the Showgirl”. He was a young film/literary fanatic who wanted nothing more than to break into the film business. Luckily he had himself the connections needed to get his foot in the door, though a little persistence was also required. He eventually landed a job on set, which even though 3rd Assistant Director sounds like a great title, he was really just a “gofer”. He had a pretty routine job until an unexpected thing happened; he caught the attention of one of the biggest stars of in the world. When Marilyn Monroe arrived to shoot the film she was a wreck. She was confused with her character, couldn’t understand the direction, and had no confidence in the acting ability. Shooting was just one disastrous day after another. Olivier was getting more and more frustrated, and was venting his frustration directly at her which would only make things worse. Nobody could seem to help her, until she met Colin Clark. He treated her different than anyone else, including her own husband (of a clearly loveless marriage), who saw her depressed state as nothing more than material to drive his writing from. She found instant admiration towards him and wanted to spend all her downtime between shooting with him. The time she spent with him helped, he seemed to bring about a new found confidence in her.. However their late night visits, and quite moments together didn’t go unnoticed. The more time they spent together the more uneasy Monroe’s management grew. However the fact that it caused her to be able to complete her scenes was enough for Olivier himself to not be too bothered.
Can’t write too much about this film without talking about Michelle Williams’s performance, she displays one of the finest performances I have seen in a long time. She disappears into this complicated role and from the moments she first steps into frame all you see is Marilyn Monroe. This is probably the best biographical depiction I have seen since Jamie Foxx’s uncanny portrayal of Ray Charles in 2004’s Ray. All this really came as a surprise. When I began reading about this film is was originally reported that Scarlett Johansson would be playing the part, she seemed to be perfect for the role, as she has always been considered an actress who carries a certain “glam” that resembled a 1950’s Hollywood actress. However she ended up turning down the role. Then suddenly, it was Michelle Williams, and though she has appeared in several films since her long running stint on Dawson’s Creek, aside from a couple good performances in Shutter Island, and more notably 2010’s Blue Valentine (which got her a well deserved Oscar nomination) she never really stood out to me as being a ‘great actress’. Well that stance has clearly changed; I couldn’t picture anyone else playing the part. She proved that Blue valentine wasn’t a fluke, and that she will most likely have a great acting career going forward.
What makes this film more interesting that a simple biopic is the perspective it’s shown from. Marilyn Monroe was a very complicated woman, who led a very complicated and tragic life. There are so many varying reports about the kind of person she was from so many different perspectives. It was often said that she was manipulative, and that she would often present herself to men in her life, and use her beauty to control them. The story in the film does very much suggest that this might be going on; Colin Clark was a very young and naive man, and who’s to say that Monroe wasn’t simply keeping him wrapped around her finger the whole time they knew each other. That said, what we are shown is a completely different perspective, and how are we to say it’s not the truth? Clark remembers her as a sweet and gentle person who only needed someone to be her friend, and to treat her like a person and not the icon she had become. Maybe that was all it was, yes he fell madly in love with her and though that she might have felt the same, and they could run away together and leave her fame behind. There are moments that come across as her putting herself out for him, but being from a young man’s point of view maybe it was just her simple act of kindness and comfortability with him that he was taking out of context. A lot of the moments shown were shared between them and them alone. We the outside perspective will only ever have these moments from Clarks young mindset, so I guess even though they may be documented in his journal, and novel. For all the rest of us, it will always remain a mystery what really happened during that week with Marilyn.