My Week With Marilyn (2011) – A Review


A review of the 2011 docudrama My Week With Marilyn starring Michelle Williams, Eddie Redmayne, Kenneth Branagh, Julia Ormond and Judi Dench

My Week With Marilyn Monroe Michelle Williams

Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) is a young man with a dream. He wants to work in the movie business. With determination and passion he secures a menial job with Sir Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) on his new film The Prince and the Showgirl that will be starring Marilyn Monroe (Michelle Williams).

Between his gofering duties at Pinewood Studios Colin meets Lucy (Emma Watson), a wardrobe assistant he begins to get romantically involved with.

Under a storm of attention and press coverage Miss Monroe arrives in England with new husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). As filming begins Monroe’s fragile emotional state immediately creates friction between her and everyone else around. She consistently arrives late on set, doesn’t remember her lines and her dedication to the Method of acting and the constant presence and advice of her acting coach Paula Strasberg conflicts with the classically trained Oliver and the production of the film.

Then Monroe takes an interest in the innocent and honest Colin. Throughout the rest of the shoot they become close and Colin becomes the soothing presence she needs in order to complete the film. Away from prying eyes a short-term, intimate relationship develops between the anonymous young man on his first job and the most famous movie star in the world.

And I believed every moment of it – NOT!

My Week With Marilyn Michelle WilliamsI was apprehensive about this movie when it was first released. There have been so many bios, documentaries and films about Monroe through the years that at a certain point you feel like what’s the point of another one. Is there anything new to learn about the most famous blond bombshell in history?

Well actually, My Week With Marilyn got me hooked in the very beginning with the setup of Monroe filming a movie with Olivier. It started as an interesting clash between these two titans of different acting styles and talents.

Olivier is constantly getting aggravated by the apparent tardiness and unprepared work ethic of Monroe which now plagues the production. The peculiar tutelage by Strasberg overseeing Monroe’s acting performance undoes any direction Olivier gives Monroe. He begins to wonder if trying to work with her is even worth it.

My Week With Marilyn Kenneth Branagh Laurence Olivier Julia Ormand Vivian LeighMonroe is equally insulted by Olivier’s lack of respect towards her. The visits by Olivier’s wife and actress Vivian Leigh (Julia Ormond) makes Monroe feel even more threatened.

Her supporting English thespians view her as ‘the movie star’ with no real talent. Her only supporter amongst the cast is Dame Sybil Thorndike (Judi Dench) who explains, “we need her, she’s the only one of us who knows how to act in front of a camera” 

This is shaping up to be a fascinating story of two artists with very different approaches to their craft having to work together. Plenty of drama and conflicts are headed our way. Perhaps the end result won’t be a spectacular movie their making, but at least it will be an intriguing story behind the production.

At one point Clark says a poignant line in regards to what each of these performers want to get out of this film and how they found themselves working with the other – “It’s agony because he’s a great actor who wants to be a film star, and you’re a film star who wants to be a great actress. This film won’t help either of you.”

After having watched My Week With Marilyn I did some searching about the actual filming of The Prince and the Showgirl. Here’s some background about the making of it. See! There is plenty of fascinating behind the scenes happenings with this movie that could be dramatized.

Marilyn Monroe Laurence Olivier Prince and the Showgirl movieAlas, My Week With Marilyn doesn’t focus on that, but with Clark’s supposed private time he spent with Monroe on her off-hours away from set. She takes a shine to the innocent young man and confides in him her dark secrets, her vulnerability and fears. He becomes her protector around the production, along which some sparks fly.

The film tries to keep vague just how far they went though. Clark falls for Monroe, but of course this is a romance that can never happen between the two – they’re two people from different worlds.

Williams got a lot of attention for her performance as Monroe, with a bunch of accolades and even garnering an Oscar nomination. So I was prepared to really be dazzled by her. Despite her not looking as pretty as Monroe she does a decent job and doesn’t fall into the trap of mimicry throughout the entire film.

She’s good at showing off Monroe’s vulnerable side away from the cameras which is focal point of the movie, but as for being the busty sex goddess the public was familiar with I thought that part was rather flat. I just didn’t buy it and didn’t see a dramatic change when she would “be her”. It wasn’t convincing and I thought that was the weakest part of her performance. Playing Monroe comes with an awful lot of baggage, so maybe no one would be able to do it perfect. Overall she does do a good job, but I wasn’t blown away by her like most people were.

My Week With Marilyn Monroe Michelle WilliamsThe supporting cast are all very good. So good in fact – I wish the movie was all about them.

Instead Redmayne’s Clark comes to the forefront and a dull, preposterous and soap opera-y romance commences. Monroe and Clark frolic in an English castle, skinny dip in a lake. Its all photographed in a very nice picturesque way, but it’s all pretty standard romantic stuff I’d imagine taking place in cheesy romance novels.

Even if this alleged story is true (which I don’t buy), the movie doesn’t make the time these two spend together very special or unique or create any real emotional enchanting scenes between these two characters.

It might have been better if this had been a fictionalized movie which would have allowed the filmmakers to create their own scenes between these two and not be limited to adapting Clark’s ‘true story’ of his time spent with Monroe. Perhaps with more freedom by the filmmakers it might have ignited a more fantastical magic. As it stands Clark’s week with Marilyn comes off pretty hokey.

Eddie Redmayne Michelle Williams My Week With Marilyn MonroeThe Clark character is written so blandly and presented in such a goody two-shoes way that it was hard for me to connect to him. I didn’t find him interesting at all and couldn’t figure out what exactly Monroe would be drawn to with this square guy in the first place. I couldn’t even accept he could land Watson’s wardrobe girl let alone Marilyn Monroe!

He fluctuates between being incredibly naive and downright creepy. The script has him always wandering around and conveniently overhearing key exchanges between characters, usually by standing in the shadows or around some open doorway. If I saw this guy walking towards me I might head in the opposite direction.

In one scene there’s a scare of Monroe overdosing in her locked bedroom and Clark is called – since he apparently is the only person she likes anymore I guess. As Strasberg and Milton Greene, a former spurned lover of Monroe’s, stand outside the locked door it takes Clark to come up with the brilliant idea of using a ladder to climb through her bedroom window.

In probably the creepiest scene since Superman used his x-ray vision to spy on Lois Lane’s family, Clark gets into bed with the drugged up naked Monroe and tells everyone to go away and that he’ll take care of her. Like he suddenly knows what’s best for her as opposed to her teaching coach and a former lover.

My Week with Marilyn Eddie Redmayne Michelle Williams Marilyn MonroeIt was a pretty uncomfortable moment watching this strange young man climb into bed with a nearly comatose Monroe. It felt like a depraved moment in this whimsical love story. I don’t know how anyone wouldn’t be skeeved out by the guy after seeing that move.

For the first quarter or so the film held my attention. Then once Clark’s week with Marilyn begins it becomes a hard to swallow tale that comes across as a fluffy starry-eyed reminiscing of something every young man only dreamed of happening to them. And it’s not as compelling as what I would have imagined it would be.

If I was going to invent a story of me shacking up with Monroe for a week I would have tried to get much more inventive.

I still would have much preferred to see a movie that centered around Olivier and Monroe. Just focus on Olivier’s recollections about Monroe and the shooting of The Prince and the Showgirl called ‘My Horror of Having To Work Three Months With Marilyn’.

Now that would have been much more interesting.


3 thoughts on “My Week With Marilyn (2011) – A Review

  1. Saw this film for the first time two weeks ago on TV and I thought it was nothing special. Some good acting, but nothing beyond the usual bio epic. It's amazing that after over thirty years, Raging Bull still stands as the greatest bio epic, seriously will another one take its place? I doubt it. Williams tries her best as Monroe, but in my book no one can impersonate Monroe. Despite Some Like It Hot being one of my favorite films ever, I was never a Monroe fan and I never thought she was much of an actress.

    Branagh finally gets to play Olivier and he does it very well, hardly surprising since Branagh was tipped to be the next Olivier and has had a similar, yet more lucrative, career. Despite being one of the very greatest actors of all time, Olivier sadly desperately wanted to be a movie star and his background in classically trained theatre clashed horribly with the Method acting theory that was finally coming to the forefront. He figured he can gain a lot in attention by starring with Monroe. Sadly by the late 70s Olivier went on to do a lot of terrible films, Marathon Man being possibly the only exception.

    Now we come to the male lead, Clark played by Eddie Redmayne. In a nutshell, he's awful. After having seen him in The Good Shepherd, Tess of The D'Urbevilles, Les Mis, and now this; for me the guy is truly one of the blandest actors working in films today. And don't get me started on how this guy looks! Seriously how can chicks dig this guy? His eyes are vacant and his cheekbones are puffed up. He looks like a scarecrow!

    As for Emma Watson; she's hot. If Watson resembled the real Lucy, I wouldn't even give Monroe another look. It's not much point talking about her since her part is so small. Still I hope she does improve over time.

    1. To me, Oliver will always be Andrew Wike from wonderful movie Sleuth!

      Both he and Michael Caine were firing on all cylinders. Each playing off the other. So much so that there was a subtle subtext that they guys might be gay (a point the remake drove right into the ground). '
      My favorite scene is when Wike shoots a pitcher out of Caine's hand, Caine lashes out angerly (YOU BLOODY MANIC!), and Wike calmly wonders what he will shoot next at which point Caine realizes he's holding something in the other hand and promptly puts it behind his back.

      But getting back to Oliver. You could definitely see the acting talent. He gave a lot of life to a film that was shot in more or less in a humongous room without special effects or camera tricks. His opening monologue at the beginning of the film were he plays Merridew makes me laugh every time (no wonder Wike needed his privacy). And the ending was VERY POWERFUL!

      I got to see that film again. British talent at its finest.

  2. Yeah, that pretty much sums up my feelings for this film as well. As much as I adore Michelle Williams (I chose BLUE VALENTINE as the Best Film of 2010), she didn't quite reach Oscar heights and you hit upon on that when it comes to "buying" her. She's good, but somehow ultimately rings false as Monroe; by the end, I felt nothing for Monroe or Williams (although I still love the latter). I would rather have watched a movie about Vivien & Larry, to be honest. Here's some trivia for you: did you know that Vivien had an incredibly high sex drive, so much so she and Larry would often screw like rabbits in the dressing room when they were making films in England in the 1930s. Afterward, Larry always seemed to be totally exhausted and completely unable to do action scenes!

    Incidentally, the lead character of my screenplay focuses on someone you could call the Marilyn Monroe of the silent era: she was considered the most beautiful woman in the world and she died under the most mysterious (and scandalous) of circumstances. The difference between the two women, of course, is how success affected them and their careers; Monroe was always intimidated by the spotlight, while my protagonist uses it to her advantage. I'm not going to reveal her name here (gave away enough clues anyway), but the screenplay as a thematic whole is really more about whom she meets and inspires her while making movies in New York and California. Standby to standby Hap, it's COMING SOON! 🙂

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